Russian Land Army Has 168 Maneuver Battalions. 60 of Them Are Within 300 KM of Ukraine
Normally the number would be 30.
Editor’s note: Russia has found a way to boost its numbers on the border in a way that is cheap and not that disruptive, but nonetheless, at one point the units either have to be called into action or sent back home. The condition is not permanently sustainable.
As Ukraine government websites came under a cyber attack Friday, the White House accused Russia of sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine to create a pretext for invasion. For months, maps highlighting Russian troop deployments near Ukraine’s borders have shown Russian forces massing in Ukraine’s east — as well as along the northern border, close to the capital Kyiv.
Over the past year, Russia has been gradually shifting troops, adding to an already robust, permanently based military posture. Russia first deployed additional forces in significant numbers in early March 2021. Some of these military units never left the area. In late 2021, the Russian military presence increased further, and additional forces continue to move toward Ukraine, many traveling all the way from Russia’s far east.
At the same time, Russian diplomats have been sending contradictory signals, assuring the media and their Western counterparts that Russia has “no intentions to attack Ukraine” while claiming that the West must answer Russian demands for security assurances — or Moscow will be forced to pursue a “military-technical” solution of its own.
These parallel developments raise two big questions: What is the nature of Russia’s current military buildup? And how long can Russia keep its forces in these forward positions? Our research on Russia’s military capabilities offers some clues.
The key factors to consider are those most relevant to a potential Russian military campaign. These involve force readiness — the extent to which a military force is prepared to fulfill its missions, such as engaging in combat — along with the ability to maintain training, whether the deployed forces include personnel or primarily consist of prepositioned equipment, and the operational implications of keeping them in the area for a prolonged period.
While maintaining its current buildup is not especially taxing for Russia, keeping troops in forward positions comes at a cost and may also harm Russia’s military prospects in a potential operation against Ukraine.
Nona-S 120mm mortars, T-80BV tanks, MT-LB, and BMP-3. Almost certainly from the Pacific Fleet’s 155th Naval Infantry Brigade traveling through Krasnoyarsk. 545/https://t.co/Vad2A2odq0 pic.twitter.com/rBJvmv7kfW
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) January 14, 2022
What do we know about the Russian troops?
Russian forces near Ukraine currently total at most 60 battalion tactical groups (BTGs), along with support elements. BTGs are task-organized combined arms formations, averaging 800 personnel in size. This translates into roughly 48,000 troops. Adding in the supporting units, the total number of Russian troops is likely 85,000 — with more on the way. Besides these regular Russian troops, there are also somewhere around 15,000 separatist forces, or Russian-led formations in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Media outlets are reporting around 100,000 troops in total, though estimates vary widely.
This means approximately 35 percent of Russia’s total available BTG generated formations (60 out of 168) are stationed near the Ukrainian border, plus additional aerospace forces and naval units in the area. The forces currently deployed within approximately 125-200 miles of the Ukrainian border fall into two categories. Divisions and brigades permanently stationed in the area figure substantially into the total, but come at no added cost or disruption. These account for about half of the number of battalion tactical groups and most of the supporting ground troops in the area.
A second set of forces are units that have been temporarily deployed to Ukraine’s borders from formations elsewhere in Russia. These include armies based in Russia’s North Caucasus, units based outside of Moscow, those in the St. Petersburg regions, and units located far away in Russia’s central regions, and even the Russian Far East.
The addition of these forces more than doubles Russia’s offensive potential near Ukraine. For example, since April units from Russia’s 41st Combined Arms Army have been in the region, deployed some 1,800 miles from their home bases. But some of these forces may be constrained in the length of time they can spend in the area before having to return to their home bases.
So far units seen in Amur, Khabarovsk, Buryatia. Suggests multiple Eastern MD formations generating BTGs. https://t.co/ro7YJ820as
— Michael Kofman (@KofmanMichael) January 9, 2022
Temporary deployments disrupt other planning
A forward deployment of this size inevitably comes at a fiscal cost — but these costs may be relatively low because the deployment is still on Russian territory. More significant, however, are disruptions to troops’ regular training and equipment upkeep, which may limit Moscow’s willingness to maintain current deployments for long.
Much of the recent buildup of forces has involved the pre-positioning of equipment, while personnel remain at their normal garrisons, ready to be deployed at short notice to forward locations. Although deploying equipment costs less than sending manned formations, there are nonetheless challenges to sustaining the deployment. For example, without equipment, troops that remain at their normal garrisons may not be able to maintain their skills and qualifications.
Temporarily deployed units that include both equipment and personnel will likely need to return to their permanent bases sooner. This is because of a combination of constraints, including conscript rotation, training schedules and potential morale issues after personnel are away from their families for an extended period of time.
Russian military conscripts currently serve one year, including basic training, which means they can only participate in military operations for approximately six months before beginning the demobilization process. However, most of the Russian armed forces are contract servicemembers (380,000) rather than conscripts (250,000). [Plus officers.]
While some training can be conducted in forward-deployed locations, this is limited by the availability of suitable training facilities. The military may be willing to sacrifice combat readiness in the short term, but the downsides of disruptions to training will compound over time, negatively affecting troops’ combat performance.
Over the past year, Russian deployment has been slow and deliberate. This allows Moscow greater freedom to select the potential timing of an operation while retaining some element of surprise. Of course, seasonal weather, hardening of terrain, the presence or absence of foliage for camouflage, and other factors may affect the Russian calculus on what the optimal time might be for a military campaign. However, the more forces mass on Ukraine’s border, the less sustainable the deployment will be over time, and the more disruptive it will be both to Russia’s military readiness and Moscow’s actual ability to conduct a large-scale military operation.
Dmitry Gorenburg is a senior research scientist in the strategic studies division of CNA and an associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.
Michael Kofman is director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA and a fellow at the Wilson Center, Kennan Institute.
Source: The Washington Post
Russian preparations for an operation are steadily advancing. Support and logistics trickling in, formations with personnel sent from Eastern MD. The outlook, in my view, has grown worse. https://t.co/TZPxJm9kGG
— Michael Kofman (@KofmanMichael) January 13, 2022
Really need to get over the cliché of Russian unpredictability. The military buildup has been taking place for a year. Russian political statements and red lines voiced all through 2021, in statements and writing. Grievances about the security order in Europe are 30 years old.
— Michael Kofman (@KofmanMichael) January 12, 2022