Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of Russia, in the middle
In early December 2013, as Euromaidan protesters and Berkut riot police fought for Ukraine’s soul in the streets of Kiev, a big (6-foot-4), beefy (250 pounds) bear of a Russian went on a shopping trip in the country’s south.
The Russian bear was ostensibly checking out the wares for sale by various parts of the former Soviet armaments industry which ended up — quite by chance — in Ukraine after the dissolution of the USSR. He was visiting manufacturers of rockets and missiles, jets and helicopter engines, battleships and submarines.
In actual fact, the visit was more like the American CEO of a multinational corporation on an inspection tour of his company’s branch plants in Canada (more about that later).
This particular Russian bear is a very big one indeed — Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation, the minister in charge of the country’s military-industrial complex and the man overseeing the current massive modernization and expansion of Russia’s armed forces.
Rogozin’s a loyal supporter of President Vladimir Putin (as one has to be to stay anywhere close to the levers of power in Moscow) and, more importantly, a member of the small inner circle of advisers that Putin actually listens to.
Another thing about Rogozin is that he’s an ardent ethnic Russian nationalist and a flamboyant, popular politician with a knack for making controversial statements. And he’s hard as nails: He’s a firm believer that the Soviet Union was a world power in the 20th Century because of its military muscle, not for any ideological reasons.
So this is the big Russian bear who stalked through Ukraine with his shopping list in early December 2013.
Rogozin’s itinerary? Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv and Kiev.
If those names seem vaguely familiar (don’t worry if they don’t — I can’t keep all this stuff straight without referring to notes either), it’s because I mentioned three of them in a Nosey Parker blog post a few days ago as being among four Ukrainian cities that provide a key to understanding why the Russians will almost certainly invade and seize a large chunk of eastern and southern Ukraine in the next few months.
Those three are Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Mykolaiv. The fourth city I mentioned was Odessa. Here’s the map again showing those four cities (marked with red pointers). Click on the map to enlarge it.
The purple pointers show Kiev, Kharkiv and Lviv — the cities where most of the action took place in the recent overthrow of Ukraine’s president — and the blue pointers show the three eastern Ukraine cities where pro-Russian agitators have been seizing government buildings and calling for annexation by Russia for the past week or so. Just ignore the red arrow pointing at Transnistria for the time being (we’ll probably get into that another time).
UPDATE: This was written almost a week ago but I’m leaving it up a bit longer because it’s still relevant. The only major change is that the “pro-Russian” protests and occupations have spread and intensified. Russia, in other words is keeping the pressure on and upping the ante. The current Kiev regime is caught between a rock and a hard place. Its threats have not worked and it cannot actually use effective force to quell the secessionist activity because that would (a) discredit the new regime for using the same lethal suppression of Ukrainian citizens that brought down the old regime and (b) give Russia an excuse to intervene overtly and powerfully as the white knight coming to save the abused citizens of eastern Ukraine.
So now it’s time to explain the attraction of Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Mykolaiv and why Rogozin and Putin consider control of those Ukrainian cities vitally important to Russia’s security and well-being. Although not on Rogozin’s December itinerary, I’ll also explain the importance of Odessa to the Russians.
And I’ll add an explanation of why Rogozin visited Kiev on his December tour. It certainly wasn’t to check out the Euromaidan protesters in Independence Square or commiserate with Russia’s beleaguered ally, then-president Viktor Yanukovytch. The Russians had other people in Kiev to do all that.
I want to remind you again that the vast Soviet military-industrial complex was spread across the whole multi-ethnic, multi-national USSR, not centred solely in Russia (although Russia was always the brains of the operation, so to speak). So when the USSR fell apart in the early 1990s, newly independent countries like Ukraine and the Baltic states and the Central Asian republics took large chunks of the Soviet Union’s scientific, technological and industrial base with them when they bolted.
Russia began a massive rearmament programme in 2011 with plans to spend 20,700 billion rubles (that’s roughly $770 billion — THREE-QUARTERS OF A TRILLION DOLLARS) on modernizing and upgrading its military capability by 2020. Russia’s own military-industrial complex is working full-time to meet this target and can’t keep up. So, of course, the old non-Russian Soviet network — which never really cut ties with the Kremlin — is getting back up to speed as well.
For a deeper look at the dependence of Russia on the Ukrainian armaments industry, here’s a link to a very important article by Vladimir Voronov, published in the Russian monthly magazine Sovershenno Sekretno (Top Secret) on Feb. 24, just a day or two after Yanukovytch fled Ukraine for sanctuary in Moscow. Of course, that link’s only useful if you read Russian (which I don’t) — but I wanted to give proper acknowledgement to the originating source.
Here’s another link to a piece from the Gorshenin Institute, which includes an English translation of Voronov’s original piece in Sovershenno Sekretno. It’s well worth the read.
Two final maps and notes before we start getting into specifics:
1.The map above shows the rough ethnic and linguistic dividing line between the two Ukraines — the Europe-looking, Ukrainian-speaking western and central regions, and the Russia-looking, Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions.
2. The map below was produced by the CIA in 1993 to show U.S. congressmen what Soviet military-production assets ended up in newly independent Ukraine after the breakup of the USSR. As you can see, most of those production facilities fall in the Russian-speaking zone, the part of Ukraine the Kremlin always considered to be “really” part of Russia. The major exception is Kiev, which was on Rogozin’s itinerary and which we’ll discuss shortly.
So here goes.
When you think Dnepropetrovk, think rockets and missiles.
That’s what are designed by the Ukrainian state-owned firm Pivdenne and built by state-owned Pivdenmash.
Under their old Russian names Yangel Yuzhne Design Bureau and Yuzhmash (short for Makarov Yuzhnyy Machine-Building Plant or something like that), they were important developers and manufacturers of Soviet-era nuclear inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and rockets for the space race.
Today they are key components in the Kremlin’s amped-up nuclear missile upgrade.
Pivdenmash currently produces Zenit, Tauras and Cyclone and other carrier rockets. Of course, in true Soviet fashion, it also produces satellites as well as wind turbines, buses, trams and tractors.
Pivdenmash is one of the largest employers in Ukraine with a workforce of somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 employees. I should point out that Leonid Kuckma, Ukraine’s second post-Soviet president, was general director of Pivdenmash from 1986 to 1991, back when it was known by its Russian name Yuzhmash (the name by which it is still largely known).
Excerpts from Ukrainian-Canadian author Myroslav Petriw’s 2012 suspense novel Yaroslaw’s Revenge:
Dnipropetrovsk was a dirty industrial city. Situated astride the Dnipro River waterway, with close access to the iron mines of Kryviy Rih, the coalmines of the Donbas, and the manganese mines of Nikopil, this city had become a center of heavy industry for the Soviet Union. It was a Detroit without the Renaissance Center…
Looking for a sign identifying the offices of Pivdenmash, Yarko saw instead a huge logo proclaiming the name Yuzhmash in Russian. Factories or businesses retained their Russian names, signage and even websites despite officially having been renamed in Ukrainian. You seemed to have to know both languages to find anything in central Ukraine. This was an experience not uncommon west of the Zbruch River. The Zbruch had formed the border between the USSR and Poland before World War 2, and the Ukrainian nation was divided between these two states. Stalin’s Holodomor — Genocide of Famine of 1932-33 — ended at this political border, leaving a sharp linguistic divide that was clearly perceptible 80 years later. The observation at that time by the Italian consul Sergio Gradenigo that the aftermath of that tragedy will be russian colonization of this country, which will affect its ethnic makeup, was most prophetic.
Ukrainian troops look at a Russian MI-35 military helicopter powered by a made-in-Ukraine engine as it patrols the new border between Russian Crimea and Ukraine.
Downriver from Dnepropetrovk is Zaporizhia, home of Motor Sich.
This is the only thing you need to know about Motor Sich and its importance to Russia: MOTOR SICH PRODUCES ALL ENGINES FOR ALL RUSSIAN HELICOPTERS.
That’s both civilian and military helicopters, even the ones the Russians are selling to the U.S. Of course, Motor Sich also makes many of the engines for Russian civilian and military jets. As Wikipedia says, “Motor Sich inherited most of the former Soviet Union’s aeronautical engine manufacturing capability.”
Zaporizhzhya is also home to Motor Sich’s R&D arm, the Ivchenko-Progress Design Bureau. Motor Sich is another of Ukraine’s major employers. And it is, of course, another major industrial complex where Russian is the working language.
An indication of the interdependency of Motor Sich and the Russian military-industrial establishment is that Motor Sich signed a new, upgraded co-operation agreement with Rostec, the umbrella organization for Russia’s defence industry, in early March — WHILE RUSSIA WAS IN THE MIDST OF ANNEXING THE CRIMEA FROM UKRAINE. Do you see where the loyalties lie?
The Russian navy has been building warships at Mykolaiv since 1788, shortly after Catherine the Great’s armies seized the area from vassals of the Ottoman Empire.
The Nikolaev Admiralty shipyard that built the first 44-cannon frigate of Catherine the Great’s Black Sea fleet eventually became known as Russud in 1911, then (briefly after the revolution) the Andre Marti Yard, and since 1931 “Shipyard Named After 61 Communards,” its still-official name. Through most of its life and all those name changes, it’s generally been called the Nikolaev Shipyard. It built battleships for the czars, and destroyers and missile cruisers and submarines for the communists and the oligarchs who followed them.
Today Mykolaiv is still building vessels for the Russian navy in three shipyards. This is also where some of the icebreakers and submarines will be built that Putin will use to enforce his control of the Arctic. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
And just south of those shipyards is the “specialized sea port” of Oktyabrsk.
You won’t find Oktyabrsk on a Google map search of the Ukraine.
It’s just south of the Korabel’nyi district near Mykolaiv where the Bug River opens up into the Gulf of Dniprovska and thence (after the tricky, protective narrows at Ochakiv) into the Black Sea about 100 km east of Odessa.
Oktyabrsk is the highly secure, very Russian “specialized sea port” from which the Kremlin ships out Kh-55 cruise missiles to Iran, Pechora-2 surface-to-air missiles to Eritrea, T-72 tanks to Venezuela and South Sudan, even more tanks and rockets to Myanmar (Burma) … and all of the above to Syria.
The map below shows why Oktyabrsk is a much more efficient port for Russia to use than, say, St. Petersburg, which is the port which would probably have to substitute if Russia was blocked from easy access to the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Oktyabrsk and Odessa.
Oktyabrsk was designed and purpose-built exclusively as a weapons shipment port for the Soviet Union. It is, after all, the port where nuclear weapons were loaded onto Soviet military cargo vessels in 1963 and shipped to Fidel Castro, thus precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Understand this: Oktyabrsk has always been Russian, will always be Russian. It doesn’t matter what the name on the map says, it’s Russian territory. A member of the Ukrainian parliament has as much chance of setting foot inside Oktyabrsk as you or I have of getting into the U.S. Marine base at Guantanamo Bay uninvited.
Odessa is a hub of Russia’s overseas weapons trade. Keep in mind that one of Russia’s biggest, money-making exports — after oil and gas and other natural resources — is weaponry.
Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms dealer, controls 80% of Russia’s arms exports and ships billions of dollars worth of killing machinery around the world each year ($34 billion in contracts were being filled as of June 1, 2013). Rosoboronexport primarily uses subsidiary companies and agencies based in Odessa and Oktyabresk to do the actual delivery work.
As well as bringing in foreign currency, Russia’s arms trade also gives it immense political leverage in various parts of the world where it sells weapons. The power to deliver — or withhold — modern armaments is power indeed.
Here’s what Tom Wallace and Farley Mesko, analysts for the shadowy C4ADS research organization, had to say (in part) in a September 2013 report entitled The Odessa Network: Mapping Facilitators of Russian and Ukrainian Arms Transfers:
The Odessa Network is a loose collection of logistics contractors for the governments of Russia and Ukraine, not independent arms dealers. Key companies and figures in Odessa include Kaalbye Group (* See note below), Phoenix Trans-Servis, and their high-level political connections via key facilitators such as Boris Kogan. The companies work with state weapons export agencies such as Rosoboronexport and Ukrspetsexport. Odessa Network company leaders have personal and financial relationships with cabinet-level officials in the Russian and Ukrainian governments, including a personal advisor to Putin and senior Russian military- industrial figures. The Odessa Network centers on a group of Odessa-based private companies that regularly move large arms shipments. Affiliated EU and Russian ship- ping firms such as Briese Schiffahrts (and its subsidiary BBC Chartering) and Balchart play an important specialized role in transporting particularly large or sensitive shipments. The network is deeply interconnected. Personnel and equipment frequently cycle between different companies, and many network members are family members, close friends, former classmates, etc.
The vast majority of weapons shipments leave from the Ukrainian port of Oktyabrsk, which was specially built by the USSR to move weapons (for example, this was the point of origin for Cuba-bound missiles in 1963). Despite being located in Ukraine, Oktyabrsk is functionally controlled by Russia—the port manager is a former Russian navy captain, and the port owner is a Kremlin-linked oligarch. Russian state weapons export agencies and Odessa Net- work firms maintain offices and personnel in Oktyabrsk.
The Ukrainian firms also engage in non-weapons business—freight brokering, crewing, chartering, etc.—and operate in global shipping centers such as Hamburg, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, and Dubai. To protect their weapons shipments, some of the Ukrainian and Russian firms own or contract with multiple private maritime security companies, who also operate in African conflict zones.
Weapons and non-weapons shipping activities generate large profits for Odessa Network leaders. They put their money in both legitimate ventures and a well-known network of Panamamian shell companies and Latvian banks that have been used for money laundering by other entities, includ- ing the Sinaloa Cartel and Hezbollah. They also are active users of US and EU financial institutions.
* NOTE: Kaalbye Shipping International denies any involvement in illegal arms shipments, points out that it is a frequent, certified shipper of heavy equipment, missiles and naval vessels for NASA and the U.S. military, and received an apology from the Washington Post earlier this month for making unsubstantiated allegations (based in large part on the assertions of the aforementioned C4ADS report) about its business activities.
In addition, Odessa is part of a sea-and-pipeline link that the European Union would like to use to avoid Russia in shipping oil and gas and other resources from non-Russian parts of the Caspian basin through Georgia to Europe. Russia would dearly love to control that link as well as all the land lines it currently runs to Europe.
And, let us not forget, Odessa is another Black Sea city that was Ottoman before the czars seized it for Russia in the 18th Century, a city with a still-large ethnic Russian population. It is a prime target for Russian takeover, according to NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove.
Now Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, is not in the so-called “Russian zone.” As demonstrated by the Maidan protests that toppled Yanukovytch in February, it is one of the principal centres of anti-Russian, pro-European sentiment in Ukraine.
Why would the Russians want to get mixed up with that?
For the same reason they would be willing to roll in the tanks to maintain control of Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Mykolaiv: Because a key component of the Russian military-industrial complex is located there.
That would be the Antonov aircraft manufacturing complex, a cornerstone of Soviet-era air power and still one of the major aircraft producers in the world. Its heavy-lift military transport planes are still the biggest and best of their kind. It’s a state-owned Ukrainian company but Antonov only came to Kiev from Central Russia in 1952. Why? Same old reason — the communist leadership never expected the Soviet Union to dissolve into separate countries.
So Dmitry Rogozin went to Kiev in December 2013 to inspect the Antonov works and check up on various orders currently being filled for the Russian military.
As with Motor Sich in Zaporizhia, the Antonov production facilities in Kiev are an integral, necessary part of Russia’s current military build-up. And, like Motor Sich, Russia simply cannot afford to let that connection be broken or even disrupted for very long.
If Canada were Ukraine…
To put this in comparative terms, imagine that Canada is Ukraine and the United States is Russia.
Now imagine that major, essential components of the most sophisticated parts of the American military arsenal are made in places like Vancouver and Calgary and Regina and Winnipeg (which happens to be sort-of true, just not to the same extent as it is in the Russia-Ukraine equation). And imagine that a large portion of the Western Canadian population has strong ties to the U.S.
Now imagine that a criminal gang of neo-Nazi conspirators and paid agitators from Quebec has seized power in a coup in Ottawa and is (a) trying to form a strong alliance with Russia, (b) doing everything they can to defeat the U.S. and (c) threatening to make all of Canada a unilingual, French-speaking nation.
(That is not — I repeat, NOT — what is happening in Ukraine, of course, but it’s similar to the scenario being pushed by Kremlin-controlled media in Russia and it’s more or less what a lot of ethnic Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine seem to believe — or at least say they believe.)
Do you really think, given that semi-hypothetical situation, the U.S. would even consider allowing Canada to fall out of the U.S. sphere of influence or — even worse — join an economic and/or military union with Russia against the U.S.?
Don’t you think the U.S. would intervene militarily, either to crush the illegal insurrection in Eastern Canada or — much easier and cleaner — simply seize Western Canada (which links up nicely with Alaska/Crimea) and all of the important resource, technological and industrial infrastructure that is so important to American interests?
And don’t you think, given that same semi-hypothetical situation, a large portion of the population in Western Canada would welcome that military intervention?
So that is why Russia has very strong motivation — with proper ground cultivation — to move into Ukraine militarily and take the parts it deems to be “Russian” and which are essential components of the Russian military-industrial complex.
While keeping the pressure on Kiev (and Washington) militarily, Russia is also pushing an alternative that would avoid war.
Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? You mean there’s a way to avoid war with a bigger, badder enemy who is guaranteed to whump my ass? It’s pretty much the alternative Adolf Hitler offered Czechoslovakia in 1938, unfortunately.
Russia keeps telling Ukraine to institute radically enhanced “federation” which would give the different regions of Ukraine increased autonomy, essentially making them independent from the central government. Thus the “Ukrainian” parts of Ukraine would do what they wanted and the “Russian” parts would go their own way.
If Ukraine does that, all the “Russian” regions of Ukraine will essentially then become de facto provinces of Russia instead of Ukraine without any invasion or formal name change. But Russia’s control over Ukraine’s essential industries and ports and “Russian” population will be complete without a shot being fired.
What do you think is going to happen?