Russian Military Districts
Military districts were the basic units of Soviet military administration. The system of sixteen military districts had evolved in response to the Soviet Union's perception of threats to its security. For example, in 1969 the Turkestan Military District was divided to create the Central Asian Military District and enable the Soviet Union to double its military forces and infrastructure along the border with China. Before independence the territory of Ukraine was divided into three military districts (MDs), which were split between two theatres of operation (TVDs). The Carpathian MD, by far the strongest, formed part of the second strategic echelon of the Western TVD while the other two, the Kiev MD and the Odessa MD, were part of the South-western TVD.
In wartime most military districts would become fronts. A front consists of two or more armies [an army in the Ground Forces usually consisted of two to five divisions]. Two or more fronts constitute a theater of military operations (TVD - teatr voennykh deistvii), a Soviet term meaning part of a continent or ocean within which are deployed strategic groupings of armed forces and within which military operations are conducted.
Senior Ground Forces officers always commanded military districts, and experience in commanding a military district was apparently a prerequisite for promotion to most of the important Ministry of Defense positions. The commanders of these MDs are responsible for the defence of Russia within their boundaries and are given a large measure of autonomy in doing so.
Commanders of military districts have deputy commanders responsible for specific military activities. Each military district had a military council, which included the commander of the district, his first deputies--one of whom was also chief of staff--the chief of the political directorate for the district, and the first secretary of the party bureau of the union republic in which the district is located.
Military districts were combined arms formations. A military district commander controlled not only the Ground Forces in the district but also the Air Forces and the Air Defense Forces. The commanders of the Air Forces and the Air Defense Forces reported to the district commander on operational matters as well as to the main staffs of their services. The military district's officers worked closely with party and government officials to plan wartime mobilization and rear services, civil defense, and military training for civilians. They supervised military training in both civilian and military education establishments located in the district. Military districts coordinated activities with the Border Troops, which had a system of ten districts organized separately from the military districts.
In 1989 twelve of Frontal Aviation's sixteen air armies were stationed in the most important military districts. Western experts disagreed over the system of air defense districts. Some argued that as many as ten air defense districts, separate from military districts, still existed. It seemed more likely, however, that when the National Air Defense Forces became the Air Defense Forces after 1980, all remaining air defense districts were integrated into the military districts. At that time, commanders of the Air Defense Forces became deputy commanders of the military districts. Only the Moscow Air Defense District continued to be mentioned in the press, possibly because it operated the ABM system that protected the capital city and the National Command Authority.
In 1989 the Ground Forces had sixty-five divisions, kept at between 50 and 75 percent of their projected wartime strengths, in the westernmost military districts of the Soviet Union; fifty-two divisions at less than half their wartime levels in the Siberian, Transbaykal, Central Asian, and Far East military districts along the border with China; and twenty-six low-readiness divisions in the Transcaucasus, North Caucasus, and Turkestan military districts.
In addition to its forces stationed in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union continued to maintain a large troop presence in Afghanistan through 1988. The Soviet 40th Army's four divisions and other forces--116,000 troops in all--had been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly ten years by late 1988. In mid1988 the Soviet Union began a full-scale withdrawal from Afghanistan. The withdrawal was completed by early 1989. The Soviet Union has also had forces stationed in Mongolia since that country became an ally in 1921. Under a plan articulated in a 1986 Vladivostok speech, Gorbachev withdrew one Soviet division, leaving four in Mongolia.
In 1989 the Soviet Union had six major groups of forces stationed abroad. The groups of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe included thirty Ground Forces divisions and four air armies in the (East Germany) German Democratic Republic, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. These groups of forces had been in Eastern Europe since 1945 and were used on several occasions to suppress anticommunist uprisings in those countries and keep them within the Soviet alliance system. They were the main concentration of Soviet forces against NATO. They were continuously manned and equipped at wartime levels. The Group of Soviet Forces in Germany was the most important Soviet territorial command. In 1989 it had 400,000 troops organized into nineteen divisions and five armies. Its importance was underscored by the fact that it was commanded by a commander in chief, like the five armed services.
When the cuts announced by Gorbachev in December 1988 were completed in 1991, 50,000 Soviet troops and six Soviet tank divisions were withdrawn from East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.
President Yeltsin signed a new defense policy document on 1 August 1998. The concept establishes a single system of military-administrative division of Russia's territory, replacing the previously existing military districts with six integrated strategic areas or zones. The new zones were as follows:
- Northwestern Zone -- within the borders of the Leningrad Military District
- Western Zone -- within the borders of the Moscow Military District
- Southwestern Zone -- within the borders of the North Caucasian District
- Central Asian Zone -- within the borders of the Volga and Urals Military Districts
- Siberian Zone -- within the borders of the Siberian Military District
- Far Eastern Zone -- within the borders of the Far Eastern Military District
Of these, five were designated "operational-strategic" commands on important strategic directions: Northwestern (LeMD); Western (MoMD); Southwestern (NCMD); Southern (SiMD) and Far Easterrn (FEMD). The eight former military districts were the Northern, Moscow, Volga, North Caucasus, Ural, Siberian, Transbaikal, and Far Eastern.
Among the specially designated units, the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova (also known as the Group of Russian Forces in the Dnestr Region) is part of the ground forces, but operationally the group is directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. This command arrangement probably derives more from political than military concerns. The second force group, the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus, stationed in Armenia and Georgia, is operationally subordinate to the ground forces command. The Northwest Group of Forces is an administrative title given to ground forces headquarters in Kaliningrad, whose troops are under the command of the 11th Independent Army. That army, in turn, is operationally subordinate to the ground forces.
In June 2010 it was announced that the Russia's General Staff was planning to merge existing military districts into four strategic commands but leave strategic nuclear forces under central control. "We will propose merging our six military districts into four strategic commands whose commanders will exercise control over all forces and assets deployed in their territory, including the Navy, Air Force and air defenses," chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Gen. Nikolai Makarov said. "The ground-, sea- and air-based strategic nuclear forces will stay under the General Staff's command," the general was quoted as saying at a session of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee.
The Russian Armed Forces were previously divided into six military districts: Moscow, Leningrad, North Caucasus, Urals, Siberian and Far Eastern. The commanders of these military districts did not operationally control the vast majority of units on their territory. The operational control of military units had typically resided with the service commander (Ground Forces, Navy, etc.). Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov merged the six military districts into four, which would also function as “Joint Strategic Commands,” by giving operational control of most units to the military district commander. The creation of four unified strategic commands to replace four military districts as part of Russia's military reform was completed in October 2010, ahead of schedule. President Dmitry Medvedev set the original date for 01 December 2010.
Command West, with headquarters in Moscow, will control all military personnel and hardware in the Western Military District. The new district will incorporate the former Moscow and Leningrad military districts and the Baltic and Northern Fleets. Command South, with headquarters in Rostov, will be in charge of the Southern Military District, which will include the former North Caucasian Military District and the Black Sea Fleet and Caspian Flotilla. Command Center, with headquarters in Yekaterinburg, will control the Central Military District, including the former Volga-Urals Military District and the western part of the Siberian Military District. Finally, Command East, with headquarters in Khabarovsk, will have command over the Pacific Fleet, the Far Eastern Military District and the larger part of the Siberian Military District.
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