Military districts were the basic units of Soviet military administration. The system of sixteen military districts had evolved in response to the Soviet Union's perception of threats to its security. For example, in 1969 the Turkestan Military District was divided to create the Central Asian Military District and enable the Soviet Union to double its military forces and infrastructure along the border with China. Before independence the territory of Ukraine was divided into three military districts (MDs), which were split between two theatres of operation (TVDs). The Carpathian MD, by far the strongest, formed part of the second strategic echelon of the Western TVD while the other two, the Kiev MD and the Odessa MD, were part of the South-western TVD.
In wartime most military districts would become fronts. Senior Ground Forces officers always commanded military districts, and experience in commanding a military district was apparently a prerequisite for promotion to most of the important Ministry of Defense positions. The commanders of these MDs are responsible for the defence of Russia within their boundaries and are given a large measure of autonomy in doing so.President Yeltsin signed a new defense policy document on 1 August 1998. The concept establishes a single system of military-administrative division of Russia's territory, replacing the current military districts with six integrated strategic areas or zones. The new zones are as follows:
Among the specially designated units, the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova (also known as the Group of Russian Forces in the Dnestr Region) is part of the ground forces, but operationally the group is directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. This command arrangement probably derives more from political than military concerns. The second force group, the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus, stationed in Armenia and Georgia, is operationally subordinate to the ground forces command. The Northwest Group of Forces is an administrative title given to ground forces headquarters in Kaliningrad, whose troops are under the command of the 11th Independent Army. That army, in turn, is operationally subordinate to the ground forces.
Vladimir Putin, who at the time was Russia's Security Council secretary, estimated on 16 June 1999 that a Russian KFOR contingent would cost at least $50 million per year. Yevgenii Savilov, who is commander of the 106th Guards Airborne Division, stated that that the soldiers would earn between $800 and $1,500 per month, which would bring the annual personnel costs of a 7,000-strong contingent to more than $100 million — not including any other expenses.
The North Caucasian Military District with its headquarters in Rostov-on-Donu is responsible for the Caucasus region. This district includes all of the North Caucasus region and the Don-Volga lands from Rostov-on-Donu to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, and from Dagestan in the south to the Volgograd Region in the north. This Military District includes many ethno-national regions, including Kalmyk Republic, Dagestan, Karachaevo-Cherkess Republic, Kabardino-Balkar Republic, North Ossetia, Chechnya, and Ingushetia. It borders on four independent states: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Azerbijan. Within Russia it borders on the Voronezh and Saratov Regions. The end of the Soviet Union turned this Military District from a supporting to a frontline role in a very complex threat environment where external threats and internal instability are linked.
The North Caucasus Military District faces the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. It is defended by the 58th Combined Arms Army and the 8th and 67th Army Corps. However, these are not robust forces. The 8th Army Corps and the 58th Army each include only one motorized rifle division, and the 67th Army Corps has only reserve forces with no heavy equipment. The weakness of these units has helped motivate Russian proposals to renegotiate CFE Treaty limitations to allow additional forces along Russia's southern flank.In August 1999 the Russian military response in Chechenya initially included one reinforced motorized infantry battalion of the Russian Interior Ministry’s 102nd Brigade, and one reinforced motorized infantry battalion of the Russian Army’s 136th Motorized Infantry Brigade. These troops, mostly undertrained and underequipped conscripts, were no match for the guerrillas. Additional units deployed to Dagestan included one reinforced battalion of the 31st Airborne Brigade [formerly the 104th "Scorpion" Airborne Division], based in Ulyanovsk, deployed in mid-August 1999. The 31st Brigade, had seen regular combat action since 1988, and prepared a second battalion for deployment. One battalion of the Pskov Airborne Division deployed August 18. Some 400 paratroopers from the Pskov Division had deployed to Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo as well. One battalion of the 21st Stavropol Airborne Brigade, from the North Caucasus Military District, deployed on 12 August 1999. A battalion of Airborne troops stationed in Buynaksk, Dagestan, as well as a brigade of paratroopers from Asbest in the Sverdlovsk region, also deployed in mid-August, along with units of the 7th Airborne Division in Novorossiysk. A motorized infantry regiment and other units from the 20th Guards Motorized Rifle Division based in Volgograd, which was involved in the assault on Grozny during the first Chechen ward, eployed 18 August 1999. Other deployments included elements of Divisions of the 58th Army in Vladikavkaz specializing in mountain warfare.
Units from the North Caucasus Military District included 58th Army HQ and support elements, the 136th Motor Rifle Brigade, 205th Motor Rifle Brigade and 19th Motor Rifle Division. Units from the Moscow Military District included elements of the 3rd Motor Rifle Division, as well as troops from 2nd (Taman) Guards Motor Rifle and 4th (Kantemirov) Guards Tank Divisions. The Leningrad Military District sent elements of the 138th Motor Rifle Brigade, the Volga Military District contributed a "tactical group" from 27th Guards Motor Rifle Division, the Urals Military District sent a "permanent readiness" Motor Rifle Regiment (believed to be part of 34th Motor Rifle Division), while the Siberian Military District sent a "permanent readiness" Motor Rifle Brigade (possibly 74th MR Brigade). Airborne Forces (VDV) included five battalions drawn from the 7th (Novorossiysk), 76th (Pskov), 98th (Ivanovo) and 106th (Tula) Guards Airborne Divisions and 31st (Ulyanovsk) Airborne Brigades.Deployments also included a variety of other Marines units from the Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad, as well as units of the Shumilov Brigade of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops in Nizhniy Novgorod and OMON elite military police troops Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Tagil, Samara and other locations.
Units never operated at anything approaching their notional strength. 20 Guards Motor Rifle Division deployed from its base in Volgograd with a total strength of 1700 men, only about two-thirds of the wartime establishment of a single regiment. The quality of the troops was notoriously low.
An unprecedented command and staff exercises with units of the US Army 3rd Mechanized Division and those of the Russian 27th Guards MRD took place in September 1994 at Totskoye. The 27th MRD had been designated for inclusion in the UN's reserve of peacekeeping forces but had little experience of interacting with the peacekeeping forces of other countries. The exercises, aimed at working out a single standard of documentation for coalition peacekeeping forces, involved 250 personnel from the US 3rd Infantry Division and 250 from the Russian 27th Guards Motor Rifle Division. .The Ural Military District lies south of the Northern district and east of the Ural Mountains, with the Siberian district to its east. The Ural district, whose headquarters is at Yekaterinburg, includes two tank divisions and two motorized rifle divisions.
In Georgia Russian mercenaries, allegedly bolstered by Russian military support, fought alongside separatist forces from Georgia's Abkhazian Autonomous Republic. Moscow also backed Northern Ossetia's bid to separate from Georgia. The North Ossetians then moved against Inguish on 31 October 1992, aided by a regiment of the Pskov Airborne Division. In February 1993 Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze's charged that the 128th Motorized Rifle Regiment from Gyumri had been assisting Abkhazian forces. According to other reports the 145th Motorized Rifle Division based in Batumi was defending the borders of the Adzharian autonomous republic. The First Deputy Commander of Russian forces in the Transcaucasus, Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Gerasimov, claimed that Georgian leaders were trying to get the division removed from Batumi, where it reportedly enjoyed friendly relations with the local government.
The Russian-backed separatist forces finally defeated Georgian forces in September 1993. In October Georgia was forced to end its strong opposition to membership in the CIS by becoming a full member and signing a series of security cooperation agreements. That step prompted Russia to send military peacekeepers to support government forces, which saved Georgia's president Eduard Shevardnadze from large-scale insurrection and further fragmentation of the country. The terms of the so-called rescue included a Georgian-Russian friendship treaty calling for the establishment of Russian military bases in Georgia for the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus (Gruppa rossiyskikh voysk v Zakavkaz’e, GRVZ). By the end of 1993 just 6,000 servicemen remained on Georgian territory in the ranks of the GRVZ.
In June 1994, Abkhazia and Georgia agreed to the interpositioning of Russian peacekeepers between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia to enforce a cease-fire. In September 1995, a Russian-Georgian treaty established twenty-year Russian leases of three bases. The Russian forces continued to share cease-fire enforcement in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, where they had been since 1992, because no treaty had ended that conflict. Russia increased its military contingent in Georgia, which was variously estimated as being between 20-25 thousand men in 1995. Russian peacekeepers were controlling the zones of conflicts both in Abkhazia and in Georgia.By 1996 the strength of the GRVZ began to decrease and, according to some data, it numbered not more than 8,500 troops. The percentage of local inhabitants in the GRVZ is high; some data show that from 60 to 90 percent of the numerical strength of the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases are Georgians and Armenians. Although multinational in name, the the Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeeping forces (CISPKF) in Georgia is almost entirely a Russian military force. CISPKF battalions are arrayed on either side of the Inguri River and have set up numerous check points within the SZ. Some CISPKF battalions come from Russian units garrisoned in Georgia. Also represented in the mission is a battalion from Russia's 27th Motorized Rifle Division (MRD), Totskoye Division, which has trained specifically to conduct PK tasks, participating in several combined exercises with US military units. The UN military observer group deployed in Abkhazia reported cooperative relations with the Russian peacekeepers.
In the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, ethnic minority Russians proclaimed the autonomous Dnestr Moldavian Republic, or Transnistria, in September 1990. The struggle between the government of the Republic of Moldova and the "Dniester Republic" formed by the Russian minority living on the left bank of the Dniester River, began in the autumn of 1991 with the republic's declaration of independence from Moldova. Russia's 14th Army, which was the primary formation in the Odessa Military District, was the principal arm for Russian intervention.
In the Soviet period the 14th Army was a low-readiness reserve structure, barely the size of a full-strength division. At the beginning of the conflict, the 14th Army possessed only about one-third of its combat potential, which relied on the 59th Guards Kramatorsk Motorized Rifle Division based at Tiraspol. However, after Lt. Gen. Alexander Lebed arrived, an antiaircraft-missile and helicopter regiments were shifted from Ukraine, and a battalion of airborne troops arrived from Belgorod. Replacement of personnel (due to the expiration of their contracts) was completed in the second half of 1992 with a separate reconnaissance battalion and a motorized rifle regiment of the 27th Guard Motorized Rifle Division (GMRD) of the Volga Military District.The separatist forces in the Transdniester region of Moldova had strong ties to the 14th Army, and during a period of active fighting in 1992, elements of the 14th Army took an active role in support of the separatists. While General Lebed was commander of the 14th Army he restored order to the force, he routinely took a public position of sympathy for the separatist regime in the region. By late 1992, forces of the Russian 14th Army had enabled these Russians to consolidate control over most of the Dnestr region.
Russia's actions chilled its relations with the now-independent Moldova, whose legislature had not ratified the 1991 CIS agreement. The pressure of a Russian trade blockade contributed to the victory of anticommunist candidates in Moldova's February 1994 legislative elections. In April 1994, the new legislature ratified Moldova's membership in the CIS, bringing the last of the non-Baltic Soviet republics into the organization. In October 1994, Russia and Moldova agreed on the withdrawal of the 14th Army, pending settlement of the political status of Transnistria. The agreement was jeopardized immediately, however, when Russia unexpectedly declared that the State Duma had to ratify the agreement. Some members of Russia's Duma flatly refused to consider withdrawing the 14th Army. Under these circumstances, there was little hope for the agreement to be implemented. In mid-1995 General Lebed' resigned in protest over the still-scheduled downgrading of the 14th Army. At that time about 4,000 to 6,000 Russian troops were present in the Trans-Dniester area of Moldova. In June 1995 Major General Valeriy Gennadyevich Yevnevich was appointed by a Russian presidential decree as the new head of the operational group in command of the Russian forces in the Dniester region.
Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Nistru (Dnister) River. The country remains divided, with mostly Slavic separatists controlling the Transnistrian region along the Ukrainian border. This separatist regime has entered into negotiations with the national Government on the possibility of a special status for the region. Progress in resolving the ongoing conflict has been blocked by the separatists' continuing demands for " statehood" and recognition of the country as a confederation of two equal states.Russia and Moldova have held joint peacekeeping exercises, beginning in July 1999. The first one involved 54 Moldovan and 80 Russian servicemen, while the August 2000 Blue Shield 2000 exercise was a one-week peacekeeping exercise held at the national army's training center in Bulboaka. In this second exercise, Russia was represented by 34 servicemen from the Kantemir division of the Moscow military district.