From June 29 to July 6, the Russian military staged massive Kavkaz 2009 exercises involving air force, army and naval units. During Kavkaz-2009, forces were deployed on Georgia’s borders and in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The official aim of Kavkaz 2009 was to prepare to counter terrorism, but this was clearly not the main objective. Unprecedented in Russian military tradition, its top military commander, the Chief of the General Staff and First Deputy Defense Minister General of the Army Nikolai Makarov was directly in command of Kavkaz 2009 – officially a routine regional exercise aimed at countering terrorism (EDM, June 18).
On July 14 in Novorossiysk President Dmitry Medvedev, visited the Black Sea Fleet flagship cruiser Moskva and inspected troops of the 7th Airborne (VDV) division that were both involved in Kavkaz 2009. In Novorossiysk Medvedev attended a top brass meeting together with Makarov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov aimed at assessing the results of Kavkaz 2009 (EDM, July 16).
Officially, the Kavkaz 2009 "operational-strategic exercises" were declared to be a success. A spokesman for the press service of the North Caucasus Military District (MD) Lieutenant-Colonel Andrei Boburin told reporters: "The goal of the exercise was to examine the actual battle and mobilization readiness of troops deployed in the southwestern region of Russia. All objectives were achieved and targets hit in conditions that were as close to real combat as possible" (RIA Novosti, July 6). Last week in the Kremlin Medvedev told top military commanders, "By the way, the recent exercises Kavkaz 2009 in one of the elements of which I participated, demonstrated that coordinated action by the armed forces, law enforcement structures and the Federal Security Service (FSB) can increase manifold the effectiveness of our actions" (www.kremlin.ru, July 20).
Kavkaz 2009 was held under a tight cloak of secrecy and the reports of their successful outcome remain vague. No foreign observers were invited. There are no official explanations as to what made Kavkaz-2009 so special that it justified putting Makarov in command, with Medvedev and Serdyukov participating.
Last week a report in the Moscow Gazeta daily quoted a source in the General Staff as saying that the main objective of Kavkaz 2009 was to test a new computerized command and control system. An Akatsia intelligence gathering system was reportedly tested to supply online-summarized information from the battlefield to upper-level operational staffs, as well as to the General Staff. A joint tactical command system Sozvezdie ("Constellation") was deployed to relay orders to battlefield units directly and online from the main operational staff. The Akatsia and Sozvezdie systems were designed to create a summarized situation environment on staff displays using information inputs from commanders, lookouts, drones and satellites to allow the commanding generals to make decisions based on online information and directly relay them to the troops. During a press conference on June 5, Makarov complained that the military lacks modern intelligence gathering and command and control systems, as was demonstrated during the war with Georgia in August 2008. The army, air force, navy and other armed forces branches has separate intelligence, command and control networks, said Makarov, but now a new joint "information pipeline" is being built to provide staffs and commanders of all services with information.
According to Gazeta, during Kavkaz 2009 the Akatsia and Sozvezdie systems did not live up to expectations: Makarov in the operational headquarters did have displays working, but the information did not come directly from remote battlefield sensors, but was punched in by officers sitting in an adjacent room. Makarov’s orders also did not go directly to the battlefield during Kavkaz 2009, through the digital information pipeline, but were relayed by staff officers using voice radios and field telephones. Replying to a Gazeta request for information, the North Caucasus MD operational staff stated that they did not know about any communication mishaps during Kavkaz 2009 (www.gzt.ru, July 20).
After the visit to Moscow earlier this month by President Barack Obama, the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili announced that the threat of a new war had receded as a direct result of American pressure on Russia. Speaking at a meeting of the National Security Council in Tbilisi on July 9, Saakashvili announced: "Russia planned another war against Georgia, but fortunately due to the support of our strategic partners and the entire democratic world they were not allowed to do so" (The Georgian Times, July 14). U.S. pressure could indeed have played a role, but the reported underperformance of the Akatsia and Sozvezdie systems during Kavkaz 2009 could have been another serious restricting factor.
The Russian defense ministry is frantically trying to improve its battlefield intelligence gathering and its command and control capabilities. The new VDV commander Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov told reporters this week that to supplement the lack of sufficient numbers of intelligence gathering drones, "it is possible to deploy in Abkhazia or South Ossetia light small propeller-engine manned An-2 or An-3 planes" for intelligence gathering "if the opposing air defenses are weak" (RIA Novosti, July 28).
The overall situation remains very tense. There is no letup in Russian officials making threatening statements, accusing Georgia of rearming with Western help, and of preparing "provocations" and planning treacherous new armed attacks against Abkhazia and South Ossetia (ITAR-TASS, July 23; RIA Novosti, July 29). It is unclear, whether any possible military action against Georgia will be postponed until the Akatsia and Sozvezdie systems effectively go online in the future, or if improvised shortcuts will be swiftly employed before the good weather season ends this year in the fall.