At the beginning of November this year. Western media reported that Russia is concentrating its forces on the border with Ukraine. The director of Russian studies at the CNA non-profit organization, Michael Kofman, estimated that satellite images showed that the forces of the 41st Army, usually stationed in Novosibirsk, did not return to Siberia after exercises in the European part of Russia, but joined other Russian forces in near the border with Ukraine. The amassing of troops was assessed as the largest since the summer of this year.
Nevertheless, according to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Russia has been maintaining around 90,000 soldiers in the border region and in the annexed Crimea for several years. These are the troops of the 8th and 20th armies of the Southern and Western Military District, and the forces and resources of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. In addition, groups of the 4th and 6th Air Force and Air Defense Forces are stationed near the border. Moreover, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, two Russian army corps – the 1st and 2nd army corps – operate in the territory of Donbas controlled by separatists.
For Ukraine, the forces of the 3rd mechanized division, stationed only several dozen kilometers from the border, pose a special military threat to Ukraine, Ukrainian military commentator Oleh Starikov recently told UNIAN. This division is located near the town of Boguczar (Voronezh region in Russia) and Wałujki (Belgorod region).
Also from November this year. there are reports from the Politico website about Russian troops in the Jelnia region in the Smolensk region; according to some estimates, these were also the forces of the 41st army. The 144th mechanized division, established since 2014, is stationed in the Jelnia area. Its divisions are also located in the Bryansk region. Jelnia is located just over 100 km from the border with Belarus.
The growing presence of Russian troops in Belarus was noticed when both countries conducted the grand Zapad 2021 maneuvers. Both countries conducted a record number of joint military exercises this year. As a result, there was a constant rotation of forces, which Michael Kofman assessed as the establishment of a genuinely continuous Russian military presence in Belarus.
At the same time, in August this year. Units of the Russian missile troops arrived in Grodno, located on the border with Poland and near the Lithuanian border, in order to create a joint Russian-Belarusian air force training center there. No data was given on the number of soldiers or on the equipment they brought to Belarus.
So far, Russia has maintained two military facilities in Belarus: a radar station in Hancewicze and a naval communication point near Vileyka. The Belarusian expert Jahor Lebiadok estimates the number of Russian soldiers permanently stationed there at 850 people. Formally, these are military facilities, not bases. The tasks of the station in Hancewicze include detection of ballistic missiles and space objects. The communication point in Vileyka helps the Russian Ministry of Defense to maintain communication with ships, including submarines.
Since the middle of the last decade, Russia has been pressing Belarus to create an air base, possibly in Bobruisk or Baranavichy, but Minsk has so far resisted. However, in July this year. Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that if the security of the Union State required it, then Russia could be deployed in Belarus with all kinds of weapons.
According to the Russian military commentator Paweł Felgenhauer, Russia can quickly bring its forces into Belarus. In an interview with PAP, Felgenhauer pointed out that Russia today has over 130 tactical battalion groups of constant readiness. Each of them has about 800 people. For comparison, NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic states consist of four battalions, although slightly larger than the Russian ones (around 1,000 people).
NATO can also launch the “Four times 30” program, the NATO Readiness Initiative. It envisages that the Alliance would be able to deploy 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat ships within 30 days. They could be directed, for example, to the Baltic states and Poland. But it will take 30 days, and Russia could act much faster, Felgenhauer believes.