Skip to main content

Russian Buildup: Critical elements point towards war

Russian T-72B3 obr 2016 tanks near Ukraine

For well over a decade, Russia has been actively building a capability to turn large training exercises into offensive military operations to minimize the suspicions of the buildup. This strategy was successfully employed in 2014 when Russian army occupied Crimea from Ukraine. The same type of maskirovka, or deception, was also used multiple times by the USSR.

During the massive Zapad 2017 exercise many western experts and pundits, myself included, were very worried that Russia would use it as a cover to stage an attack against Ukraine or even the Baltic states. Before Zapad 2017 I wrote a short checklist titled "To worry or not":

Tweet from 2017

The list isn't comprehensive, but the Russian buildup during the January 2022 ticks all other boxes from that list, with the exception of Air Force assets being deployed to road bases, but that isn't strictly necessary given the availability of runways in the regions surrounding Ukraine. 

The sheer volume of the deployment is also on a whole nother scale when compared to 2017 or even the 2014 invasion of Crimea. We are currently looking at the minimum of 80 battalions of combat troops, that are expected to grow to a hundred battalions in a week or so. And this isn't accounting the VDV airborne units that are able to deploy into the region in hours or days. The Russian deployment into Belarus is also focused to the southern border against Ukraine, instead of being spread across the country like in 2017. The Belarusian army is also mobilizing at least partly towards the same direction.

What sets this deployment apart from the previous ones is the ratio of enablers to combat troops. Running peacetime training requires a lot less supplies, redundancy in infrastructure such as communications and live munitions than a full fledged invasion against an opponent that has the level of firepower Ukraine currently has. Russia has also been building the required infrastructure. including fuel pipelines and repair depots along the Ukrainian border for years now.

Nebo-M radar set

The examples of enablers we have been observing lately inclure rare pieces of expensive equipment like Nebo-M long range radar sets and R-416 radio relay systems, that are military district or high command assets, very rarely deployed to normal training exercises.

Similarly the shipments of equipment spotted recently have included significant amounts of reloads for missile systems such as S-300, BUK and Iskander-M. These missiles are somewhat delicate and are usually stored in the special warehouses at their home bases. The units on training exercises have inert missile containers for the TELs and reloading vehicles, but no spares are being brought in on flatbeds like now, as it would be a waste of resources.

Iskander-M ballistic missiles

Reloads for S-300V Army Surface to Air missile system

Several other army and military district level assets such as the 2S7 203mm and 2S4 240mm SPG battalions, heavy MLRS regiments and separate engineering formations have also been deployed to the region.

These specialty equipments, combined with the combat troops, huge amounts of fuel tankers, pipeline troops, munitions trucks and general logistics vehicles indicate that Russia is building a real capability to invade Ukraine, or parts of it. The costs of this deployment, ranging from Kaliningrad, whose marines are heading towards Eastern Mediterranean at the moment, accompanied by their Northern Fleet colleagues, to the 64th Covering Division, that was pulled from its regular duty of protecting the Chinese border in the Russian Far East, is crippling to the Russian military budget. The deployment has also thrown all normal training schedules to the bin and it will have negative effects on the Russian capabilities in the long run.

Backing down from this level of investment without visible gains would be a tremendous show of weakness for Putin. With the diplomatic path to concessions by the West seemingly stonewalled and Ukraine not capitulating without a fight, the only option for real gains is warfare. 

The time window for that is also limited, not only by the prevailing weather conditions and the costs, but also due to supplying forward deployed field hospitals with blood that only has a shelf life of a few weeks.

Time to get serious with helping Ukraine is now!

Popular posts from this blog

Quick guide to identifying the Russian tanks Part 1: Updated Dec. 2021

  As most of the western nations have reduced their inventories to a few or mostly one type of main battle tank model in their active inventories, the myriad of tank platforms and distinct versions employed by the Russian armed forces may feel overwhelming. Here is a quick guide to identifying Russian MBTs. When you come across an image (or the actual thing), follow the steps to identify it properly. Updated 15.12.2021: T-90 modifications Family of the tank Russian Armed Forces currently operates, or at least storage, the following tank platforms/families: -            T-55 (<2000 in storage) -            T-62 (2000 in storage) -            T-64 (2000 in storage) -            T-72 (2000 active duty, 8000 in storage) -            T-80 (2000 active duty, 5000 in storage) -            T-90 (350 active duty, 600  in storage) -            T-14 (20 in field testing) So how can you identify what type of a tank are you looking at? There are two features that can be used to distinguishing th

The Russian ”Tank Circus”

The Russian media has published several articles about the latest round of live fire drills by the Russian tank forces. The first brief mentions caught my attention as they described a new tank tactic based on the experiences of the Russian expeditionary force in Syria.  T-72B1 at Pogonovo (Photo: © RIA Novosti / Andrey Stanavov) The details about the new tactic were scarce but there were mentions of continuous movement and a steady barrage of main gun fire. On 4th of July, the RIA published an in depth article about the 20th combined Arms Army’s field training of the new tactics (Translated to English by Sputnik ) The “Tank Carousel” is simply a drill in which a tanks of a formation, be it a platoon or a company, move around a set perimeter firing the from vantage points or openings in a berm and then move off to safety while another one moves in to the same spot to fire.  This does allow the unit to maintain sustained 125 mm tank gun fire at a target area. Another

Russian Tanks 2022: Thicker and Blinder

  Since the all out invasion of Ukraine the Russian army has lost at least 1700 tanks. This has caused the Russian army some supply problems, when they are re-forming their mauled units. Fighting has also revealed the need for upgrades on most of the Russian tank designs. The most obvious issues with the existing Russian tank fleet are the insufficient armor protection, the lack of reverse mobility and the vulnerability of the automatic loaders and their ammunition carousels. Although the last one has gifted us the sport of Turret Throwing. T-72B obr 2022 tanks Very little can be done for the mobility with the limitations of the existing transmissions and the autoloaders can’t really be replaced with better designs or human loaders either. The armor part on the other hand can be improved during the activation and refurbishment of the deep stored Soviet-era tanks. The first new design that appeared in the battlefield was an upgraded T-72B3 with additional armo,r mimicking the T-90M layo