Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) Demonstrates New Capabilities in First-Ever Strategic Exercise
By Catherine Hodgson, Will Baumgardner, and Mason Clark
The Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) demonstrated new capabilities and readiness during its first-ever operational-strategic exercise from July 12 to 30. Rosgvardia conducted Zaslon-2021 as a nationwide exercise and readiness check of its full spectrum of capabilities, not a localized exercise as it originally claimed. Rosgvardia falsely announced in early July that Zaslon-2021, its first strategic exercise since its establishment in 2016, would occur only in the Central, Volga, and Southern federal districts and support preparations for the Russian military’s upcoming Zapad-2021 exercise. Zaslon-2021 instead occurred simultaneously in every Russian federal district except the North Caucasian. Rosgvardia conducted four large-scale exercises involving all Rosgvardia units in the announced Central, Volga, and Southern districts, supported by unannounced small-scale exercises across Russia. Twenty-three of Zaslon’s component exercises occurred in the announced districts, while 42 exercises occurred in other, unannounced districts across Russia.
The Kremlin uses Rosgvardia as an internal security force to combat terrorism and claimed Western-backed “color revolutions.” Russian President Vladimir Putin created Rosgvardia by decree in 2016 by reorganizing existing units from Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). Rosgvardia’s official mission is to ensure public order and guard against terrorist attacks, and likely numbers between 200,000 and 400,000 troops. Putin created Rosgvardia as a politically loyal force to suppress internal dissent and combat allegedly Western-backed protests—what the Kremlin calls “color revolutions.” Rosgvardia is commanded by Putin’s former bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov, and reports directly to Putin instead of the Interior or Defense Ministries. Rosgvardia’s responsibilities go far beyond its official mandate, however, and Rosgvardia has previously deployed to several theaters including Crimea, Syria, and Belarus.
The component exercises of Zaslon-2021 primarily practiced cooperation between elements of Russia’s security services in counterterror and anti-crime operations. Three types of Rosgvardia forces participated in Zaslon-2021—regular Rosgvardia troops, Special Rapid Response Units (SOBR), and Special Purpose Mobile Units (OMON)—in addition to supporting units from local police and the Russian military. Standard Rosgvardia forces have capabilities comparable to military police units and are responsible for protecting state facilities and cargo, aiding border authorities, preventing arms trafficking, and working in the field of public security. SOBR and OMON are specialized detachments within Rosgvardia. SOBR units specialize in counterterrorism, anti-organized crime, and urban warfare operations. OMON units are riot police forces intended to counter protests and were instrumental in the Kremlin’s crackdown on protests and enforcement of COVID-19 response measures in 2020. Other units supporting Zaslon-2021 included local police, border guards, and specialized Ministry of Defense personnel.
Rosgvardia demonstrated conventional military capabilities on par with regular Russian motor rifle units in four major exercises in the Central, Southern, and Volga federal districts. The majority of the individual exercises in Zaslon-2021 were small-scale and primarily focused on domestic scenarios such as locating and neutralizing small groups of enemies in buildings, rescuing hostages, and combating natural and man-made disasters. However, the four centerpiece exercises in the pre-announced districts were markedly larger and more complex. Rosgvardia’s press service announced that the July 29 exercise in the Southern federal district involved 4,000 troops, and the other three exercises involved “all Rosgvardia units” in the Central or Volga districts. Rosgvardia demonstrated capabilities comparable to frontline Russian military units in these exercises by using artillery, rotary-wing aircraft, air defense systems, UAV support, and electronic warfare systems in conventional combat operations.
Rosgvardia’s demonstrated capabilities during Zaslon-2021 indicate that Putin likely intends Rosgvardia to have combat capabilities comparable to those of the regular Russian military, requiring increased analysis from the United States and its allies. Rosgvardia units will likely participate in the Russian military’s Zapad-2021 exercise in Russia and Belarus in September, providing Rosgvardia with experience coordinating large-scale operations with the Russian military. The Kremlin may increasingly leverage Rosgvardia as a politically loyal anti-terror and anti-protest force across the former Soviet Union, not only domestically. Rosgvardia’s development of capabilities analogous to conventional Russian motor rifle units may additionally free up the Russian military for international operations—enabling Rosgvardia to maintain garrison and border security positions currently held by Russian military units. The scale of the concurrent unannounced exercises Rosgvardia conducted as part of Zaslon-2021 additionally demonstrates Rosgvardia’s increasing capabilities as a domestic security force. Putin may be improving the capabilities and readiness of Rosgvardia ahead of the September 2021 State Duma elections or in anticipation of future protests amid his declining public support. The expansion of Rosgvardia at the expense of Russia’s other security structures, and apparent duplication of many capabilities possessed by the Russian military, may lead to infighting and dissent among the Kremlin’s security services. The United States and its allies should increase their monitoring of Rosgvardia and apply the attention to its exercises and development typically applied to the Russian military as the Kremlin further prioritizes this relatively new force.
The following is a list of the component exercises of Zaslon-2021. The centerpiece exercises of Zaslon-2021, carried out by the Rosgvardia forces of entire Russian federal districts, are listed first. Supporting tactical exercises are divided by parent federal district and day.
Central Federal District
- Central District Rosgvardia Units, including the Sofrinskaya Brigade and the Moscow Division for Protection of Public Order, practiced driving armored vehicles, organizing communications in the field, and conducting reconnaissance at the Ashukino training center near Moscow. The units deployed mortars and an anti-aircraft unit in order to destroy an illegal armed formation, and also practiced equipment decontamination.
- All units of the Central District Rosgvardia practiced searching for and neutralizing armed criminals in various operational conditions in the Moscow and Vladimir regions. Special Forces Unit “Peresvet” and Central District SOBR drilled marching "many kilometers" to the exercise site and firing mortars. Moscow District SOBR Unit "Bulat" worked with the Sofrinskaya operational brigade to assault a building and ensure the safety of hostages.
Volga Federal District
- All units of the Saratov Rosgvardia, Volga District Rosgvardia, and Russian MoD personnel together suppressed a terrorist attack on a water transport facility in the Saratov region. The units then deployed to block escape routes and neutralized a terrorist group.
Southern Federal District
- Head of Rosgvardia Viktor Zolotov attended drills at which 4,000 Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON troops deployed Mi-26, Mi-24, and Mi-8 helicopters and mortars to neutralize criminals who had seized an artillery arms depot at the Kadamovsky training center in Rostov. The troops also deployed UAVs, armored vehicles, and over 700 other pieces of equipment during the exercises.
Central Federal District
- Deputy Rosgvardia commander Viktor Strigunov oversaw complex special exercises by Rosgvardia’s 604th Red Banner Special Purpose Center "Vityaz" to destroy a simulated terrorist group. Exercise participants conducted a parachute landing with sniper cover, used drones to locate terrorists, neutralized a terrorist group in a high-rise building, and evacuated from the exercise by helicopter at the Novsky training center near Moscow.
- Central District Special Forces Unit "Peresvet" and Moscow District Rosgvardia SOBR “Bulat” unit officers searched for and neutralized bandit groups, protected state facilities, and held tactical shooting exercises at the Elektrosal training center near Moscow.
Northwestern Federal District
- Murmansk region Rosgvardia SOBR neutralized members of an illegal armed group that seized a building.
- Arkhangelsk region Rosgvardia SOBR repelled an attack on a convoy.
- Pskov region Rosgvardia SOBR checked households for suspects while OMON units established a blockade of a village.
- Murmansk region Rosgvardia OMON unit "Medved" detained terrorists traveling by car.
- Komi Republic Directorate Rosgvardia SOBR units and officers, and OMON personnel, repelled down the facade of a building and arrested criminals.
- Pskov Directorate Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units detained a terrorist traveling by vehicle.
- Unspecified regional OMON units blocked off an area while SOBR forces stormed a building seized by terrorists in the Vologda region.
- Karelia region Rosgvardia OMON units intercepted terrorists in a moving vehicle, chased fleeing terrorists into the woods, and neutralized them.
- St. Petersburg Directorate Rosgvadia, Leningrad region Rosgvardia, and North-West District Rosgvardia units participated in unspecified exercises in the Northwestern region.
Southern Federal District
- Kalmykia Rosgvardia SOBR Unit "Krechet" and OMON units neutralized armed criminals hiding in an industrial building in Elista, Kalmykia region.
Volga Federal District
- A Nizhny Novgorod region Rosgvardia Special Medical Detachment (MOSN) marched from Blashikha to Bogorodsk, assembled a field hospital, and responded to a man-made disaster in the Bogorodsky district of the Nizhny Novgorod region.
- Samara region Rosgvardia OMON units and local law enforcement seized a hijacked ship at the Saratov reservoir.
- Mordovia region Rosgvardia SOBR units escorted military cargo and fought off an assault.
- Volgograd region Rosgvardia SOBR Unit "Vector" and OMON units marched from a point of deployment to an exercise location and detained enemies that had seized a building in Gorodischche village, Volgograd region.
- Tartarstan region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units seized a building taken by terrorists and defused a bomb.
- Kirov region Rosgvardia specialists in radiation, chemical, and biological protection developed a process for conducting degassing, decontamination, and the disinfection of equipment. The specialists increased unit coherence and discussed methods to reduce fallout from hazardous facilities.
- Tatarstan region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units neutralized an explosive device, conducted air reconnaissance, and stormed a hideout of armed bandits.
- Nizhny Novgorod region Rosgvardia SOBR, OMON, and OMON explosive specialists participated in a dynamic exercise. The OMON and SOBR repelled an attack on a road checkpoint and utilized drones to locate and neutralize an armed group. The OMON explosive specialists then located and destroyed an IED.
- Nizhny Novgorod Rosgvardia units protected a state facility.
- Rosgvardia Volga tactical forces utilized drones for reconnaissance and assaulted bandits hiding in a forest in the Penza region.
- Unspecified regional SOBR and OMON units used armored vehicles to neutralize armed bandits in the forest and a building in the Mary El region.
- Perm region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units neutralized armed criminals in a building and freed hostages.
- Ulyanovsk region Rosgvardia units stormed a building and ensured the safety of hostages. Engineering specialists with service dogs located dangerous objects.
- Samara region Rosgvardia OMON units repelled an armed attack on a convoy with humanitarian supplies at the OMON special tactical exercises base in Togliatti, Samara region. SOBR units used a UAV to identify fleeing terrorists and detained them. SOBR Unit "Omega" detained armed criminals who had seized a bus with passengers.
- Kirov region Rosgvardia personnel and OMON and SOBR officers practiced coordination while storming a building.
- Mordovian Directorate Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON stormed a building and neutralized armed criminals. SOBR units used a UAV to identify the intruders, and OMON units blocked off the building while SOBR units stormed it.
Ural Federal District
- Ural District Rosgvardia SOBR searched for and eliminated a bandit group in Novouralsk.
- A Ural District Special-Purpose Aviation Detachment used UAVs for reconnaissance, identified intruders in protected facilities, located poachers, and searched for missing persons.
- Ural region Rosgvardia units participated in a combat mission, a reconnaissance mission, and a de-mining activity.
- Ural District Rosgvardia SOBR units used UAVs, artillery, and armored vehicles to locate criminals in a forest, respond to their gunfire, and neutralize them. The units also practiced storming a building.
- Chelyabinsk region Rosgvardia SOBR Unit "Krechet" and OMON units detained armed criminals that had seized hostages in a weapons store. The units practiced battle formations, providing cover fire, and using snipers.
Siberian Federal District
- Kemerovo region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units and the special forces unit “Kuzbass” detained armed criminals during a hostage situation and evacuated a wounded soldier.
- Novosibirsk region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units repelled an attack on a checkpoint and neutralized armed criminals on a bus at the Gorny training center.
- Irkutsk region Rosgvardia units conducted an emergency flood response exercise in the city of Angarsk, Irkutsk region.
- Altai region Rosgvardia SOBR, OMON, and UAV operation units, alongside personnel of the Ministry of Emergency Situations for the Altai directorate, cordoned off the city of Rubtsovsk and manned checkpoints to control the movement of people to prevent the spread of an epidemic.
- Komi region Rosgvardia SOBR units seized a building taken by armed criminals at the Sokolovka airport.
- Tuva Directorate Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units and non-departmental guards prevented the spread of anthrax in a town.
- Tomsk region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units neutralized members of an illegal armed group, detained criminals in a hostage situation, detained a sabotage and reconnaissance group, seized a bus, and freed hostages.
- Kuzbass Directorate Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units stormed a building, coordinated action between law enforcement officers, neutralized criminals, and blocked and searched the premises.
- Omsk region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units detained criminals and rescued hostages.
- Tomsk region Ministry of Emergencies personnel conducted wildfire mitigation and wildfire response.
- Altai region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units neutralized armed criminals.
- Tyumen region Rosgvardia and SOBR forces stormed a building and neutralized an armed target.
- Siberian District Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units marched to a mission location and detained criminals in a variety of situations in the Krasnoyarsk region. SOBR officers practiced tactical medicine.
- Krasnoyarsk region Rosgvardia units evacuated citizens from an unspecified emergency, established a safety zone, and confiscated unregistered weapons in Abakan, Krasnoyarsk region.
- Novosibirsk Directorate Rosgvardia SOBR units deployed to the exercise location via armored car and freed hostages from an administrative building.
- Omsk region Directorate Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units detained criminals hiding in a village.
- Irkutsk region Rosgvardia's Special mobile detachment and an Irkutsk Aviation squadron established a blockade around enemies and located and neutralized bandits hiding in the forest.
- Siberian District Rosgvardia Unit "Seversky" neutralized armed criminals and deployed a mine detection dog to check the area for explosives in the Tomsk region.
- Khaty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug-Ugra Directorate Rosgvardia OMON blocked off a building while SOBR units stormed a bank building seized by three armed criminals.
Far Eastern Federal District
- Khabarovsk region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON, servicemen of the "Typhoon" special-purpose detachment, and Eastern District Rosgvardia Battalion troops neutralized enemy sabotage groups. SOBR units repelled an attack on a motor vehicle convoy, and "Typhoon" forces located and neutralized an enemy sabotage group.
- Primorsky region Rosgvardia OMON units blocked off and eliminated members of an armed group while SOBR units detained intruders in a building.
- Sakha (Yakutia) Directorate Rosgvardia SOBR detained an enemy holding a hostage in the Yakutia region while OMON blocked off the area.
- Buryatia Republic Rosgvardia Directorate SOBR Unit "Bars" and OMON Unit "Krechet" found and neutralized criminal groups in mountainous, wooded, and urban conditions.
- Jewish Autonomous region Rosgvardia units neutralized terrorists.
- Kamchatka region Rosgvardia OMON units blocked off an area while SOBR stormed a building and neutralized a terrorist who had taken a hostage.
- Sakhalin region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON officers cordoned off areas and eliminated terrorists. The units detected and arrested armed criminals in confined spaces.
- Amur region Rosgvardia SOBR units repelled an attack on a convoy and neutralized enemies while OMON units blocked off the area.
- Magadan region Rosgvardia SOBR and OMON units conducted tactical exercises and detected and eliminated armed terrorists in a wooded area.
 “Operational-strategic exercise” is a Russian term for a large military exercise occurring in multiple locations, combining staff exercises with field deployments. The term has previously been used to identify the Russian military’s major annual exercises. Zaslon-2021 is Rosgvardia’s first use of the term.
 Mason Clark and Rachel Kenny, “Russia in Review: July 7 – July 20, 2021,” Institute for the Study of War, July 22, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russia-review-july-7-%E2%80....
 Colonel Jason P. Gresh, “Rosgvardia: Hurtling Towards Confrontation,” CSIS, September 21, 2020, https://www.csis.org/blogs/post-soviet-post/rosgvardiya-hurtling-towards....
 [“About 10 Thousand Combat Missions have been Completed by Rosgvardia Officers in Syria since 2018,”] TASS, March, 24, 2021, https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/10981847; George Barros, “Belarus Warning Update: Belarus Confirms Plans to Purchas Advanced Air Defense Systems from Russia,” Institute for the Study of War, January 14, 2021, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/belarus-warning-update-bela....
 “Putin Submits Bill on National Guard Troops to State Duma,” TASS, April 6, 2016, https://tass dot com/politics/867586.
 Role overlap between OMON and SOBR in the armed-response role continues to this day; however, SOBR is considered to be better trained, equipped and specialized for it. OMON is seen more often responding to riots and mass civil unrest rather than armed incidents, although they are capable of responding to such. Charlie Gao, “SOBR: Inside Russia’s Super Special Forces,” National Interest, June 10, 2021, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/sobr-inside-russias-super-speci....
 [“On Guard of Health: Rosgvardia Entered the Fight Against Coronavirus,”] Regnum, April 14, 2020, https://regnum.ru/news/2916499.html.
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