Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 8

On April 5 the CIS Joint Air Defense System held a command-and-staff exercise under the overall supervision of General Anatoly Kornukov, commander in chief of Russia’s Air Forces. From a Moscow headquarters, Lieutenant-General Yurii Bondarev directed the exercise in his dual capacity as Russian Air Forces deputy chief of staff and coordinator of the CIS Joint Air Defense System. That duality is reminiscent of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact’s organizational arrangements, in which a Soviet deputy chief of staff often had under his command the units and forces supplied by allied regimes to the Pact’s “joint forces.”

The April 5 exercise involved a total of 120 command-and-control stations of various levels, 160 communications units, fifty-eight planes and an undisclosed number of surface-to-air missile batteries in Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan–the joint system’s member countries. The forces practiced information exchanges and common response actions by land-based and airborne units in various types of emergencies, ranging from hostile violations of national airspaces to the hijacking of civilian airplanes.

On the same day, Russia’s air defense command conducted two separate bilateral exercises with Ukraine and Uzbekistan, respectively. Those two countries are not members of the joint system and they limited their participation in the exercise accordingly. In Ukraine’s case, the exercise is said to have only practiced assistance to airplanes in flight in nonmilitary emergencies. Kornukov recently inspected air defense forces in Armenia and the four Central Asian countries which are members of the joint system. Last week, Kyrgyzstan became the last member country officially to report placing its air defense on joint combat duty with Russia and other joint system members.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has invited Georgia and Azerbaijan to a trilateral air defense exercise, to be hosted by the Ukrainian Air Force in the Crimea this summer. Baku has accepted the invitation and Tbilisi has signaled its acceptance of the proposal, which can add substance to the GAU–Georgia-Azerbaijan-Ukraine–core of the former GUUAM grouping. Should it go ahead as envisaged, the exercise in Ukraine would formalize and deepen the demarcation in the military sphere between CIS countries allied to Russia and the fully independent member countries.