Russia’s National Guard to Get Tanks Following Wagner Mutiny

In the wake of Wagner’s mutiny, Viktor Zolotov, the head of Rosgvardia, Russia’s National Guard, said his troops will receive tanks and other heavy equipment. This appears to be a reaction to Rosgvardia’s experiences in Ukraine and during the Wagner rebellion.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday at the Kremlin’s Cathedral Square, Zolotov noted that Rosgvardia currently lacks “tanks and long-range heavy guns.” But he said Moscow will supply Rosgvardia with this equipment, “depending on funding.” He did not provide a timeline.

Zolotov made his announcement ahead of a speech in which President Vladimir Putin thanked Russian security personnel following the Wagner mutiny. Zolotov claimed he and Putin had already discussed the issue, which the Rosgvardia chief emphasized “is now very acute.” After Putin’s address, Zolotov reiterated that his troops will receive “tanks and long-range heavy weapons.”

Created in 2016, Rosgvardia’s primary purpose is to squash so-called “color revolutions.” Zolotov, who has led the service since its inception, previously served as a bodyguard to Putin. Rosgvardia can also perform auxiliary military functions, such as rear security and territorial defense. Rosgvardia personnel have deployed to Syria, where they reportedly perform missions such as defusing explosive devices and escorting humanitarian cargo.

When it was formed, Rosgvardia absorbed various institutions previously subordinate to Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). Among them were the Internal Troops, the OMON riot police, and the SOBR quick-reaction police for combating organized crime and terrorism. These forces are stationed throughout Russia. In 2016, Zolotov claimed Rosgvardia would comprise over 340,000 military and civilian personnel. The Internal Troops are the largest of Rosgvardia’s forces, allegedly numbering around 170,000 personnel as of that year.

While part of the MVD, the Internal Troops initially had some tanks. The service’s 93rd Mechanized Regiment, armed with T-62 main battle tanks and PT-76 amphibious light tanks, fought in Chechnya. But in 2006, the Internal Troops transferred their tanks to the regular Russian military. They also relinquished their artillery, although the service eventually re-established an artillery regiment in Chechnya in 2010, equipped with D-30 towed howitzers.

Rosgvardia troops typically operate BTR-80/82A(M) armored personnel carriers and lightly armored vehicles such as the Patrul-A, Tigr-M, and Ural-VV, along with various types of trucks. They also have some BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles. Moscow considered reintroducing tank units in the Internal Troops but ultimately sided against it when creating Rosgvardia, believing the service did not need tanks for its missions.

In Ukraine, however, Moscow thrust Rosgvardia into a role for which it was not trained or equipped. In addition to securing the rear and patrolling occupied cities, some Rosgvardia personnel have participated in combat. Notably, two Rosgvardia units reportedly manned Russia’s second line of defense near Balakliya, Kharkiv Oblast, when Ukraine launched its rapid counteroffensive there last September. They were quickly overwhelmed.

Rosgvardia also found itself outgunned during the Wagner mutiny. As Wagner columns sped toward Moscow, Rosgvardia forces took to the streets, scrambling to establish roadblocks and defensive positions at key highways leading into the capital. Some spetsnaz (special forces) from the Russian military appear to have joined.

Had Wagner not halted its advance, Rosgvardia would have had to face off against a much heavier force. Wagner had received a large amount of equipment from the Russian military, including various types of tanks and BMP-2/3s, plus transporters to carry them long distances. The group also received tube artillery pieces and multiple-launch rocket systems, along with several types of air defense systems and even some fixed-wing aircraft. (None of those aircraft were spotted during the mutiny.)

Likely with these experiences in mind, a Rosgvardia spokesman argued on Tuesday that equipping Rosgvardia with tanks and additional artillery would help it combat threats both in Ukraine and at home. Alexander Khinshtein, a State Duma deputy who previously served as an advisor to Zolotov, claimed that Putin had already agreed to up-arm Rosgvardia before the mutiny. But Khinshtein expressed hope that the rebellion would “accelerate” that decision’s implementation.

As Zolotov noted during his announcement, arming Rosgvardia will cost money. Khinshtein said he spoke with Rosgvardia colleagues who confirmed that the service will not receive equipment seized from Wagner. The Russian Defense Ministry says its units will get that equipment. According to Khinshtein, Rosgvardia will purchase its new equipment through Russia’s annual state defense order.

That means Moscow, if it goes through with Zolotov’s plans, will need to reallocate some of its finite funding and production capacity away from arming its regular military. Russia already has its hands full trying to replace the military’s enormous losses in Ukraine and equipping new formations Moscow intends to establish. Rosgvardia will also need to stand up units to receive the new equipment and train personnel to operate, supply, and maintain it.

So, if Rosgvardia does receive tanks, it probably will not happen until after the war is over.

John Hardie is the deputy director of FDD’s Russia Program and a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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