Clipped wings – on the “DPR” Republican Guard and reforms in the Donetsk separatist militia

An airborne force with no fixed or rotary wing element may seem counterintuitive, but it is reality in the separatist rebel forces in Donetsk. The Republican Guard, after a great deal of reform has been mostly reorganized into the 100th Separate Mechanized Brigade (100-й ОМСБр), save for some individual units which have stayed under the direct command of the Republican Guard, but still have undergone significant reform.

repg The colors of the 100th Separate Mechanized Brigade, RG, 1st AC, MoD DPR

In all fairness, the 100th Mechanized Brigade is neither an airborne brigade in name or in reality, but its appearance oozes VDV (Воздушно-Десантные Войска), the Russian/Soviet airborne troop. The dress uniforms of soldiers in this brigade consists of the sky-blue berets with the “DPR” flag pin/patch on one side and a soaring eagle perched on its top, soldiers also wear blue and white striped undershirts (Telnyashka) and parachute insignia on their collars, all signature traits of the VDV. The Color (unit flag) of the Republican Guard (pictured above) is the seal of the city of Donetsk with wings and a parachute, evoking a notion that this would be an airborne unit. But why would a mechanized brigade have the appearance of an airborne force? The answer most likely lies in the process of nation-building rather than any purely military line of reasoning. The VDV holds a special place in the hearts of people in the post-soviet space, and in Russia especially. Most post-soviet countries still have some sort of airborne force, even if only by name as is the case in some Central Asian states. The VDV can be with some accuracy compared to the US Marine Corps in terms of how it is celebrated in popular culture, it is a common enough force to have a large constituency but has a reputation for extraordinary toughness. It should thus be reasonable to assume that this appearance is a question of morale and civic nation-building, if all post-soviet countries have some variation of an airborne force, then surely it would be pertinent to have one in the country you are attempting to build.

When the 100th Mechanized Brigade celebrated its one-year anniversary recently, much had changed in the Republican guard since its inception, and indeed much has changed in the “DPR Armed Forces” since then too. Changes to the Republican Guard have not simply been internal restructuring, but also transferals of units to outside the guard and even some outside the 1st Army Corps. On a very basic level, the Republican Guard used to be split up into nine known ‘Battalion Tactical Groups’ (BTGr) and other, smaller units which were scattered throughout the territory held by “DPR”, now the Republican Guard is split up into three ‘unit numbers’; the 100th Mechanized Brigade, an assault battalion and a ‘Special Forces’ battalion.

The concept of the BTGr comes from the Russian military, dating back to the Soviet Union (where it was abbreviated as BTG), in which it had sprung out of necessity in the Soviet-Afghan war, where the lack of defined front lines required a combined arms force at a battalion level.[i] Conversely, in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which has defined front lines, the BTGr concept would hypothetically be used as a way to have small combined-arms units capable of operating independently on the entire front of the “DPR”. Most likely, a combination of factors contributed to the decision to change the Republican Guard from being a bunch of BTGrs to focus on a brigade structure. One such factor could be the increased confidence in the solidifying front lines, in which combat support can safely support units in combat, even outside of the battalion level. A second factor could be a lack of materiel and skilled personnel to support combined arms operations on a battalion level, something which is not unthinkable considering the current state of the Republican Guard.

In this restructure, the 6th and 7th Battalion Tactical Groups were transferred to the 9th Mechanized Regiment by Novoazovsk, on the southern front of the crisis in Donbass. The 8th BTGr “International Brigade Pyatnashka”, led by “Abkhaz” and containing many fighters from the Caucasus, has been completely removed from the 1st Army Corps entirely, but appears to still somehow exist, although their place defending Marynka has been replaced by remaining fighters from the Republican Guard. The former 5th BTGr has been reorganized into a 3rd Separate Mechanized Battalion, presumably within the 1st Army Corps. The 4th Battalion / BTGr “Cheburashka”, named after the beloved Soviet cartoon character, was also disbanded this spring, and its remaining members sent to the 11th Regiment “Vostok” – stationed up by the Capital of the de-facto republic.

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Pictured left: Colors of the Separate Assault Bn,
Pictured right: Colors of Separate Spetsnaz Battalion “Patriot”

What we are left with is a separate mechanized brigade within the Republican Guard which consist of three mechanized battalions, a tank battalion, a self-propelled howitzer battalion and a medical company, it is also possible, but unlikely that a battery of the SA-8 Gecko radar guided air defense missiles that reside within Donetsk are subordinate to the 100th brigade, especially considering that the Republican Guard originated as a “territorial defense” force[ii]. Starting with the mechanized battalions, it is likely that they each consist of two or three mechanized companies with BMP-2s as well as a mortar company with self-propelled (truck mounted) 2B9 Vasilek 82 mm mortars. The tank battalion seems to be sparsely populated, consisting of perhaps the least uniform collection of tanks in the 1st Army Corps, with both T-72s and T-64s sporting a wide variety of ERA generations and configurations. The tank battalion also has a shortage in manpower, a common theme in specialized units where trained crew can be difficult to come by, and the recently established military academy (Дон ВОКУ) evidently being unable to train enough crew to fill these positions at this time. The 2nd self-propelled howitzer battalion consists of at least three batteries of 2s1 Gvozdika 122 mm howitzers, seemingly being somewhat adequately staffed. Most, if not all of the artillery pieces in the 2nd self-propelled howitzer battalion come from the artillery brigade “Kalimus”, lending to the theories that either it was an existing Kalimus battalion that has been transferred to the 100th brigade, that only the artillery pieces have been transferred, or that it is simply a “Kalimus” battalion attached to the 100th brigade. There is also a medical company in the 100th Brigade and presumably also a staff company and other combat support units, but these are the ones identified at this point. Remaining within the Republican Guard are two other battalions; the Separate Assault Battalion (ОШБ) and the Separate Special Tasks (Spetsnaz) Battalion (ОБСпН) “Patriot”. The Separate Assault Battalion was supposedly created out of the former military intelligence unit/directorate (GRU) of the Republican Guard. This battalion is a sort of infantry battalion, which also performs more asymmetric tasks like crafting and placing Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), while still performing tasks such as front line defense and checkpoint duty. The Separate Spetsnaz Battalion “Patriot” was once the 9th Battalion of the Republican Guard, and is the special operations force of the Republican Guard. The assault battalion wears parachute insignia much like the 100th brigade, while “Patriot” gives off little indication that it may be in the Republican Guard.

The structure of the Republican Guard as described above has been visualized in the graphic below, the assault battalion marked as an infantry battalion, and “Patriot” marked as a reconnaissance battalion:

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It would however be a good idea to take this graphic with a grain of salt, as the commander of “Pyatnashka” attended the “Union of Volunteers of Donbass” conference in Rostov-on-Don wearing old Republican Guard insignia. In addition to this, a news segment in September 2016 mentioned a SpetsNaz regiment containing “Pyatnashka”, Detachment “Chechen” and “Patriot”.This could mean any number of things, that a new regiment has been formed under the RG, reeling in “Chechen” and “Pyatnashka”. It could also that the new regiment has been formed outside of the RG and that Patriot is in fact no longer part of the Republican Guard, which seems somewhat more likely. Not much is known about this regiment, the most certain member is detachment “Chechen”, in which the members have “SpetsNaz regiment” (Полк Специального Назначения) written on their unit patches. All indicators would suggest that this ‘regiment’ is still in its early stages of development, and may not even fall under the MoD,  but more likely is an armed unit within the Ministry of Interior. With this in mind, it is still too early to say if the Republican Guard will exclusively consist of the 100th Brigade or not.

Armored vehicles in the Republican Guard can ostensibly be identified by the mark “РГ” (RG) in a diamond, and more specifically, the 100th brigade would have “100” in a diamond also (pictured below). In reality however, many Republican Guard vehicles appear to be unmarked, or marked as being from other units, presumably as a result of reshuffling of materiel.

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The leaderships of the Republican Guard have also undergone some rough times, with the commander of the 100th being switched out earlier than a year after it was created. Initially the 100th Separate Mechanized Brigade (Unit Number 08826) was commanded by an S. Belov, but currently the brigade is under the command of colonel S. Svirskiy. Furthermore, some figures in the Republican Guard leadership has suffered some unfortunate fates. The second in command of the 100th Separate Mechanized Brigade, colonel Evgeniy “Kot” (cat) Kononov was killed[iii] by “Ukrainian snipers” in his office in Donetsk shortly after the formation of the brigade. The commander of the 3rd Battalion, major Nikolaevich went missing without a trace this spring, presumably never to be found.

In conclusion the Republican Guard is shaping up to become a collection of increasingly standardized military units. The appearance of the guard (Patriot excluded) serves as a morale boost to troops as well as a tool for nation building. With increased normalization, and a switch to a brigade structure (primarily), should come an increased capacity to act as a capable homogenous fighting force granted the Republican Guard can solve its personnel problems which it is currently facing for heavy equipment. As a final remark, the “DPR” does have a single Antonov AN-2 biplane operational which keeps “DPR” hopes high that the republican guard can eventually transform into a real VDV force, this however is highly implausible as chances for survivability are low and Republican Guard units have not undergone jump training, even though there is the possibility that individuals within the RG have. The structural situation of the republican guard, and indeed the entire “DPR” armed forces, still appears to be fluid, and is likely to change over time.

[i] http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/restructuring-for-unconventional-warfare.pdf

[ii] https://20committee.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/cngu3ppwoaajrrk.png

[iii] http://rusvesna.su/news/1452373913

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