In early November, Western media reported that Russia was concentrating its forces on the border with Ukraine. The director of Russia studies at the CNA nonprofit, Michael Kofman, estimated that satellite images showed that the forces of the 41st Army, usually stationed in Novosibirsk, after the exercises in the European part of Russia, they did not return to Siberiabut joined with other Russian forces near the Ukrainian border. The amassing of troops was assessed as the largest since this summer.
Nevertheless, according to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine in the border region and in the annexed Crimea Russia has been supporting around 90,000 soldiers for several years now. 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 2021 there are reports of the Politico website about Russian troops in the Jelnia area in the Smolensk Oblast; 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 noted, when both countries carried out the great 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 truly continuous Russian military presence in Belarus.
Parallel, in August troops of the Russian missile forces arrived in Grodno, located on the border with Poland and near the border with Lithuania, as stated – in order to create there a joint Russian-Belarusian air force training center. 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 putting pressure on Belarus to create an air base, probably in Bobruisk or Baranavichy, but Minsk has so far resisted. However, in July, Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated that if the security of the Union State requires it, then Russian armed forces with all kinds of weapons may be deployed in Belarus.
According to the Russian military commentator Paweł Felgenhauer, Russia can quickly bring its forces into Belarus. Felgenhauer pointed out that Russia today has more than 130 tactical battalion groups of constant readiness. Each of them has about 800 people. For comparison, NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic States are four battalions, although slightly larger than the Russian ones (about a thousand people).
NATO can 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.