March 07, 2018

Russia's Military Posture: Ground Forces Order of Battle

Executive Summary

U.S. leaders and their European allies are unprepared for the ways in which Putin is poised to wage war in Ukraine and the Baltic. The Russian military is well-positioned to launch a conventional war in Ukraine and a hybrid war in the Baltic States, the opposite of what Western leaders seem to be expecting in each theater.

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Western leaders are right to be concerned with the threat of a Russian conventional invasion in the Baltic region. Yet the Russian armed forces are much better postured for rapid mechanized intervention in Ukraine. Putin has positioned Russia’s ground forces around Ukraine in ways which would enable him to accelerate a conventional maneuver war from the north and east with speed, if he desired.  Their presence and capability also support Putin's efforts to coerce and cajole Kyiv.

Western leaders are also right to focus on the hybrid warfare tactics the Kremlin has used in Ukraine in the past, including the use of soldiers out of uniform, disinformation campaigns, and the infiltration and commandeering of vigilante groups. The Baltic States, however, are vulnerable to these same tactics. Their vulnerabilities include a disaffected Russian minority, Russia’s ever-present cyber and information operations, and domestic law enforcement and intelligence apparatuses unprepared for large-scale destabilization.

U.S. leaders and American partners in Europe should re-evaluate Putin’s current military positioning and the weaknesses in Ukraine and the Baltic region that leave these states vulnerable to various forms of attack. They must reconsider what military and non-military tools are required to defend NATO allies and Ukraine against potential Russian aggression in the likeliest forms it could take. Western leaders must then compose an approach to confront the multifarious threats Russia poses in Europe.

Key Facts
  • The Kremlin has re-established multiple division headquarters along the Russia-Ukraine border but has not restored any near the Baltics
  • There are three mechanized divisions near the Ukrainian border compared to just one airborne division near the Baltic, which would not be optimal for large-scale mechanized offensives
  • The Kremlin has deployed ground forces in pairs of regiments co-located under division headquarters along separate-but-converging lines of advance with well-secured rear areas, all within 50 miles of the Ukrainian border
  • Soviet and Russian maneuver warfare doctrine supports the pattern of deployments along the Ukrainian border, but not along the Baltic States' borders, for the conduct of rapid, large-scale mechanized operations
  • Russian military leadership, practice, and ad hoc deployment along the Baltic borders all suggest Putin is much more likely to pursue a hybrid approach in the Baltic over a conventional mechanized invasion, but is readier to conduct a conventional invasion of Ukraine

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