Objectives, Scenario, Participants and Peculiarities of the exercise
The role and place of “Center-2019” SCPE in the system of strategic exercises of the Russian Armed Forces
The main result of the operational and combat training of the Russian Armed Forces for the year is the “West”, “Caucasus”, “Center”, and “East” Strategic Command and Post Exercises (SCPE), which are held in turn in each of the four military districts of the RF Armed Forces.
Exercise scenarios are based on simulations of different variants of war and armed conflict between Russia and its adversaries, the main of which are:
- US/NATO — on North-Western (Baltic) and South-Western (Black Sea) directions;
- China, the USA and Japan — on the Eastern (Siberian and Pacific) directions;
- Islamic extremists — on the Central (Central Asian) direction.
Based on this, in the course of SCPE, they rehearse strategic offensive and defensive on one of the above-mentioned directions and actions to support and secure them — on other directions. Since 2014, the plans for such operations on the South-Western direction have also included military actions against Ukraine.
Apart from mastering purely military issues, conducting of SCPEs of the RF Armed Forces is also aimed at achieving a number of military and political goals. The main ones are intimidation (blackmail) of Russia’s rivals, as well as strengthening ties with its allies and partners.
Peculiarities of the “Center-2019” SCPE
According to the established cycle of strategic exercises of the RF Armed Forces, in 2019 the “Center-2019” SCPE was held in the Central Military District (CMD) of the RF Armed Forces. The official scenario envisaged a comprehensive operative-strategic operation to repulse Islamic extremists and ensure security on the Central Asian direction by the Armed Forces of Russia and its allies.
According to legend of the SCPE, near Russia’s southern border, there emerged a quasi-state with extremist and expansionist ideology under the influence of radical Islamism coming from the countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The creeping Islamization of Central Asian countries and the West’s pursuit of anti-Russian policy have become additional drivers of regional tension and challenges for Russia. The escalation of tensions has led to a conflict, namely, the Islamic extremists’ invasion into Russia and its allies.
Accordingly, within the framework of the exercise, the opposing parties were: “northerners” — Russia and its partners, and “southerners” — Islamists. The “northerners” deployed several groups of troops to repulse the enemy’s attack.
These forces repulsed the attack of Islamists, who after that were completely crushed by active offensives.
This focus of the exercise was somewhat different from the focus of the previous “Center” type SCPEs, which, in fact, were conducted in the rear military districts of Russia. For example, in past years the fight against Islamic extremism was just an integral part of such exercises. They would mainly rehearse redeployment of forces from rear military districts to strengthen the troops in other areas.
The reason for the aforementioned changes in the nature of the “Center” SCPE is the growing level of threats from Islamic extremism, first of all, due to its active spreading from Afghanistan to Central Asia and the neighboring regions of Russia.
At the same time, judging by the SCPE’s participants, scope of the exercise and the nature of the combat training tasks, it had broader purely military and political objectives, such as:
- demonstration of force to Russian opponents. Thus, a number of other exercises were conducted against the single operational background with the SCPE, including rehearsing the actions against the USA and NATO. At this, components of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces were also involved in the exercise;
- demonstration of the unity of positions of Russia, its allies and partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In this way, the CSTO and the SCO were effectively opposed by Moscow to the United States and NATO;
- preserving Russia’s influence on Central Asian countries under the guise of helping them to counter Islamic extremism. Through this, Russia has already succeeded in intensifying cooperation with them in the military and military-technical spheres, including in the forms of joint military exercises, strengthening the Russian military presence in their territory, as well as increasing in sales of Russian military equipment;
- testing the possibilities and rehearsing the use of force against Central Asian countries in the case of their attempt to get out of Russia’s sphere of influence.
Against this background, China’s participation in the “Center-2019” SCPE (the PRC sent a brigade tactical group and a helicopter unit to Russia), was quite demonstrative. By this, Beijing shows a stronger engagement with Russia in the military sphere in the face of growing disagreements between China and the United States as the two leading centers of power. At the same time, China continues getting acquainted with the Russian war theater and studying the RF Armed Forces’ combat capabilities, which is of interest to China in case of a possible conflict with Russia.
Participants of the “Center-2019” SCPE
According to an the official statement by the RF Defense Ministry, the “Center-2019” SCPE was conducted on September 16–21, 2019, under the command of the Chief of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces, First Deputy Minister of Defense V. Gerasimov.
In total, more than 130,000 military servicemen, more than 20,000 pieces of weapons and military equipment (including 250 tanks, 450 infantry and armored personnel carriers, 200 artillery and missile systems), 600 aircraft, and 35 warships and logistics vessels participated in the exercise.
The exercise involved military command and troops (forces) of the Central Military District, part of the military command and troops (forces) of the Southern and Eastern military districts, as well as some forces of Airborne Troops, Long-Range (Strategic) and Military-Transport Aviation, Caspian Flotilla of the RF Navy.
Besides, military units of the Armed Forces of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (as CSTO allies of Russia), as well as Uzbekistan, China, India and Pakistan (as Russia’s partners in the SCO) were invited to participate in the exercise. In total, 2250 foreign military servicemen participated in the SCPE.
A set of political, economic, and military measures were rehearsed during the SCPE, which were carried out at different stages of the exercise.
In general, the analysis of the strategic command and post exercise of the Russian Armed Forces “Center-2019” allows us to draw the following conclusions:
First, Russia continues to use its Armed Forces as one of the main instruments of its neo-imperial policy. At this, Moscow openly demonstrates its military force, openly intimidating both, its adversaries and, in fact, its partners, whom it seeks to retain in its sphere of influence;
Second, along with the USA and NATO, Russia’s new adversary is the expansion of Islamic extremism from the Near and Middle East, first of all from Afghanistan through Central Asia. Given the radical nature of Islamic extremism and the fact that there are no effective factors that could effectively prevent it, this threat is more dangerous for Moscow than pressure from the West;
Third, the Kremlin’s policy and actions are supported by a number of countries that are seeking to deepen cooperation with the Kremlin, including in the military sphere. At the same time, their cooperation is mostly mercenary. For example, most of Russia’s partners aim solely to use its potential to resolve their own security problems. China holds a special place, seeing its military cooperation with Russia as a means of deterring the United States and gaining additional opportunities on Russian direction;
Fourth, Moscow’s efforts to demonstrate military force did allow it to create an image of Russia as a “mighty world power”, among other things, capable of dictating its will to the USA and the EU, let alone the former Soviet republics. At the same time, the emergence of new “fronts”, disperses Russia’s efforts and makes countering its opponents more and more expensive;
Fifth, Russia’s problems with its new adversaries could objectively be used by Ukraine to our country’s advantage. Namely — to take a firmer stance in the negotiations with Moscow on all problematic issues in bilateral relations. First of all — about the Donbas and Crimea. At this, Ukraine would be able to talk with the Kremlin at least on an equal footing, instead of seeking ways to concessions.