Since the early beginnings of the Russian Empire, in medieval times, the Russian government has been forced to allocate a vast amount of resources defending its equally vast borders. In his book “The History of Russia”, published in 1643, English diplomat and historian Giles Fletcher the Elder described the system that had been created under Ivan IV (the “Formidable”) as a type of early Territorial Defense. Fletcher wrote that the Godunov clan (Boris Godunov, who served as Regent during the rule of Fyodor Ivanovich) managed many of the border towns personally. The four major border towns at the time being: Smolensk, Pskov, Novgorod, and Kazan. The first three needing to be protected against Poland and Sweden; and the latter against the Crimean Tatar Khan.
To govern these border towns, the Tsar appointed four Dukes of high-ranking nobility who also served in his privy council. These Dukes were rotated out every four years and were paid 700 rubles a year for their service. This amount included a bonus for hazardous duty, even though the Dukes themselves lived in Moscow, while the Dyaks (the “Deacons”) lived out in the field and did the actual work. And everybody also knows about the Cossack units which defended Russian territory in the various borderlands including “Ukraina“, the name itself being “borderlands”.
Despite this history of vigilance, necessary for a vast land power controlling such a big chunk of the Eurasian continent, Russia really slacked off in the post-Soviet era, thus leading to the current horrendous situation. In which this land power is hemmed on all sides by hostile nations intent on destroying it; and NATO nukes positioned within 7-minute range of hitting Moscow. Something obviously went terribly wrong at some point.
And then things got even worse in the past year. Now Ukrainian/NATO battalions feel comfortable launching cross-border raids on Russian soil, completely confident in their own impunity. This is nothing Russia has not seen before — Fletcher, for example, describes how the Russians got used to seasonal Tatar raids and could almost set their clocks by them. But now the time has come to finally do something about this dire situation. The issue is the beefing up (and not exactly proactively) of the Russian Territorial Defense units.
To discuss this issue, I have this piece by reporter Andrei Rezchikov. His headline reads:
Russian Territorial Defense Is Ready to Arm Itself
Alluding to the surprising fact that the Territorial Defense units guarding the Russian border, are not allowed to carry guns. The lead paragraph:
The Governor of the Belgorod Oblast has proposed to arm the Territorial Defense detachments, in order to provide a more “professional and not amateur” pushback to the enemy. However, within expert society, there are those who do not share this idea and foresee certain complexities in trying to implement it. What are the pros and cons of this initiative, and what changes in the existing legal system would be necessary?
All of this, of course, has to do with the recent “invasion” of Belgorod Oblast by the Ukrainian army. Even though the “invasion” was quickly repulsed, some lessons were learned from the initial confusion that ensued. A few hours were wasted initially, while the authorities tried to figure out who was in charge and how to coordinate the various entities, such as the Border Guard service, the police, the Territorial Defence, the Emergency Responders, and the Russian army. Such confusion would never have existed during the reign of Boris Godunov. Every man there would have known exactly what he had to do, and to whom he reported, had, say, a group of armed Poles or Swedes barged into the Russian province swinging their pikes and muskets.
Meanwhile, according to Rezchikov, the regional Belgorod government has created on the border with Ukraine seven Battalions of Territorial Defense, comprising a total of 3,000 men. Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov avers that the units are already fully capable, they have been in training since November 2022. Training with what, I don’t know, because Gladkov goes on to say that the men are not armed. The Oblast government would like to change this situation and give the men some automatic rifles. “It’s time to go professional and not amateur.” However, such changes must be implemented fully in accordance with the law. Certain laws might need to be amended, Gladkov adds. According to Article 22 of the Russian Legal Codex, Territorial Defense is implemented only during wartime. The job of these men is to defend important objects which secure the well-being of the population; for example, guarding bridges and patrolling certain areas; protecting the transportation system, communications, the energy system, etc. They also assist the Internal Organs (such as police) with keeping public order in times of crisis.
In addition, however, Territorial Defense has to deal with diversionary groups and illegally armed formations which invade Russia from time to time. Headquarters of the Territorial Defense are being created in the various regions and in territories subject to wartime conditions. Regional heads of government are in charge of these assets.
The issue of arming these units arose after the major raid into the Belgorod Oblast. For almost an entire day, a state of emergency reigned in this area, as the counter-terrorist operation (CTO) proceeded to liquidate 70 Ukrainian terrorists. Governor Gladkov clarified that the Territorial Defense units themselves were not involved in this CTO. As I would imagine not, since they don’t have guns. What were they supposed to do, throw cream pies at the Ukrainian terrorists?
Last April a man named Andrei Turchak met with President Putin. Turchak is an important member of the ruling party, United Russia, and heads a working group on issues related to the Special Military Operation. One of Turchak’s proposals was that members of the Territorial Defense Units start packing.
The Gladkov/Turchak initiative was supported in the Russian Parliament (Duma). Alexander Borodai, who represents the Rostov district, is very much in favor of this idea: “I am very much in favor of the government, in a completely legal fashion, arming those who are prepared to defend our Motherland. This would be an absolutely correct decision,” he states.
Borodai said that he recently traveled to Belgorod and met with the leader of the local Territorial Defense. “In my view it is disturbing that these people, to this day, are not allowed to carry guns. This is a kind of relic from the Soviet epoch.”
Now we have heard the “pros”. But in the continuation to this post we will hear the other side of the story, the “cons”. The people who think this would be a bad idea, and why they think that.
[to be continued]