What I want to share with you today is a promo movie by Zvezda TV, the semi-official TV channel of the Russian Ministry of Defense, at the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the Russian Airborne Forces. So don’t expect a hard-hitting documentary asking the tough questions and making critical comments. However, this is nonetheless a very interesting video and when I saw it, I begged Alena Scarecrow and Tatzhit to translate and subtitle it, which they very kindly did. Before letting you watch the video, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about the Russian Airborne Forces (called ‘VDV’ in Russian) and about their military, social, political and even spiritual role in modern Russia.
The Russian Airborne Forces
The Russian VDV are truly an absolutely unique phenomenon and they should not be confused with any other airborne force.
For one thing, the VDV are fully mechanized. So while they are ‘paratroopers’, these paratroopers are not just light infantry (like, say, the US 82nd AB), but a very mobile force, fully mechanized and with a *lot* of firepower. In the movie you are about to watch, you will see some of their armored vehicles and artillery pieces which, uniquely, can also be delivered by parachute. What the movie does not show is the artillery of the VDV which includes such systems as the 2S9 Nona, the D-30 howitzer or the 2S25 self-propelled tank destroyer.
Second, the VDV are a numerically huge force which currently totals 50’000 men and includes 5 Airborne Divisions and 6 Airborne Brigades (including the 45th Special Forces of the VDV Brigade). All of them air-deployable and on a top-level or readiness.
Thirdly, the VDV truly are the embodiment of military valor and tactical skills and they have played an absolutely crucial role in many Soviet and Russian battles, but probably never more so than during the worst tragedy in their long history: the battle for Ulus-Kert in which the entire 6th Airborne company perished. I don’t have the space and time to recount in detail what happened on that day of early 2000 but to those interested by this amazing event I would recommend the article “ULUS-KERT: An Airborne Company’s Last Stand” by Sergeant Michael D. Wilmoth, US Army Reserve, and Lieutenant Colonel Peter G. Tsouras, US Army Reserve, Retired, in the Military Review of July-August 1991, pp 91-96 (click here for this article reposted on this blog). Keep in mind that this article was not written by the promotions department of Zvezda TV, but by two US military experts who are very critical of many aspects of what took place that day (and rightly so).
What is absolutely crucial for the understanding of the importance of this battle for Hill 776 is Ulus-Kert is that the year 2000 marked the absolute rock-bottom of the “democratic experiment” (aka the Zio-American colonization) of Russia. Yes, Putin has just come to power, but the country was absolutely devastated by a decade of Soviet stagnation followed by another decade of “democratic reforms” and Putin was just making his very first steps as a new head of state. What the 6th company achieved on Hill 776 was an immense wake-up call to the entire Russian nation saying “enough is enough” and “not one single step back”. The article by Wilmoth and Tsouras accurately describes all the failures in command and execution which resulted in the tragedy of the 6th company, but it is precisely these failures which made the sacrifice of these men so amazing: the country had essentially abandoned its own military, but the young men of the VDV did not hesitate to die, all of them, to resist the face of evil (and, in those days, nothing embodied absolute evil as much as the Chechen Wahabis and their reign of terror and medieval atrocities). It is hard to over-estimate the contribution which the Russian Airborne Forces have made to the rebirth of Russia. But this goes even further.
I strongly believe that it is not a coincidence that the Russian Airborne Forces have even produced an Orthodox martyr and saint: Evgenii Aleksandrovich Rodionov. You can read a short summary of the life and death of Rodionov in the Wikipedia article under his name.
What is so important about the case of Rodionov is that died as a martyr because he refused to abandon his Orthodox faith and that his podvig (spiritual feat) happened away from everybody at a time when, as the sad expression went, “every boy wanted to become a criminal thug and every girl a prostitute” as people used to say in 1996, in the midst of the “democratic hell” Russia had become. Though I cannot prove it, I am personally deeply convinced that the fact that Rodionov was a solider of the Airborne Forces is not a coincidence. I have met enough Airborne officers and soldiers myself and I know that their level of patriotism and spiritual awareness is exceptionally high because they live by an honor code, an ideal, which has it roots in the most ancient Russian military traditions which have always been immersed in spiritual and moral values far beyond just winning a battle.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that all the soldiers of the VDV are some kind of invincible saints or anything like that. Far from it. It is enough to see the footage of the kind of silly drunken nonsense these guys display each August 2nd (the day of the Holy Prophet Elijah, Patron of the Russian Airborne Forces) to lose any such illusions:
But on the same day, this also takes place:
And one reality should not overshadow the other one: they are both equally Russian and equally typical of the VDV.
What I am trying to illustrate by all of the above is that the Russian Airborne Forces are an absolutely unique, and uniquely Russian, phenomenon and that they are a truly formidable force by any measure. Now for a more US-style promo movie, with lot’s of high-tech hardware and “cool” shots, please see the following video. It will also show you that the Russian VDV are also very modern and forward looking military forces with over 85 years of development behind their back. And, having watched that video, ask yourself this simple question: how impressed to you think these guys are with the new multi-national NATO “spearhead” and “rapid reaction” forces?
(please click on ‘cc’ to see the English captions)