Russian Military Districts
By 2016 the Russian Defense Ministry is considering the question of renewing Russia's presence in the bases in Cuba and Vietnam, according to Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov, who alluded to the issue during his speech at the State Duma on 07 October 2016. "We are working on it. We see this problem," said Pankov, responding to a parliamentarian's question about whether or not the ministry is working in this direction. The issue of Russia's armed forces being present on a permanent basis at the radio-electronic center in Cuba’s Lourdes and Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay had not been decided officially. However, Russia's expert community was actively analyzing the suitability of the bases and their possible purpose.
"There was a radio-electronics intelligence center in Cuba. I think it should be reopened," said Reserve Lieutenant General Yevgeny Buzhinsky, council chairman at the PIR Center (Center for Political Research), an NGO that studies issues related to global security. In his view, it was a mistake to halt operations at the Russian radio-electronics intelligence center, which operated in Cuba from 1967 to 2002.
"There is no military-strategic sense in establishing Russian military bases in Cuba. Such discussions are aimed at stirring the interest of the U.S., at complementing NATO's growing activity in Europe," said Maxim Starchak, scientific collaborator at Queen's University's Center for International and Defense Policy (Canada). In Starchak's opinion, the Kremlin may use the talks of renewing its presence on the island as a way to show Washington "that every new countermove will only instigate a response, meaning that negotiations are necessary."
If the Defense Ministry is indeed considering the issue of returning Russian naval forces to the port of Cam Ranh in Vietnam, said Buzhinsky, most likely it concerns reviewing the current conditions in which the Russian ships are docked at the port, since today Russian vessels already refuel there. "The [new] agreement is mostly nuances: the kind of ships that can enter, their tonnage, if they can enter with armament. I think it just involves giving juridical form to the agreements already reached," he explained. In Buzhinsky's view, the point on Russian ships' material-technical maintenance in Vietnam is necessary for Russia because it wants to strengthen its naval presence in the world's oceans. The permanent stationing of Russian ships in Southern Asia, without the need to spend time and resources to travel the great distances from any Russian port to the Cam Ranh Base, will significantly strengthen the Russian navy's position in the world’s oceans, said Viktor Litovkin, a military observer at the TASS news agency.
However, many experts believe that Russia is not considering a permanent presence in Vietnam. According to Starchak, the base in Cam Ranh may serve as a temporary point for Russia's strategic aviation and submarines, which would then enter areas of possible drills in Asia, as well as for reconnaissance purposes. "Russia doesn’t have the necessary military-naval resources for a permanent presence outside its territorial waters. So the base in Cam Ranh will be used for the technical maintenance of Russia's air force and navy in the regions close to Russian borders, as well as for supporting combat preparation exercises," said Litovkin.
The possible expansion of the Russian naval presence in the Cam Ranh port in Vietnam and consequently the permanent presence of Russian military forces in this region represents a certain threat to the U.S. naval base in Guam, said Michael Kofman, a fellow at the Kennan Institute of the Wilson Center specializing in Russian military analysis. In 2015 the U.S. State Department asked the Vietnamese government to cancel Russia's right to have its strategic bombers refuel at the Cam Ranh Base because of allegedly "provocative" Russian aviation flights near the U.S. base in Guam. However, the Vietnamese government did not change its policy and the republic's ambassador to Russia said that the country was ready to continue accepting and servicing Russian ships at the Cam Ranh Base if this practice was not aimed at harming third countries.
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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