Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the creation of 20 new formations and units in the Western Military District. According to Shoigu, 2,000 units of new military equipment are to be delivered in this district. The Russian minister also promised that maneuvers in the western direction would continue.

Sergei Shoigu’s argument is, in fact, a continuation of the thesis that Vladimir Putin voiced in his address to the Federal Assembly on 21 April this year: allegedly the West is constantly “provoking Russia.” “The actions by our Western colleagues are destroying the world’s security system and forcing us to take adequate measures. We are constantly improving the combat composition of the troops,” Shoigu said. This is fully in line with the Russian doctrine, which justifies any military activity with the need to defend itself against NATO’s “insidious plans.”

Russia’s Western Military District is a large grouping stretching from the polar region to Ukraine’s borders. A while ago, it included two Soviet districts: Moscow and Leningrad. It unites one tank, two combined-arms armies (each consists of about 10 forces), four airborne divisions, one air defence army, two air armies, and the Baltic Fleet. The total strength is 400,000 personnel. It should be understood that according to the Russian classification, tactical formations include army units of the brigade-division level, which in turn are combined into operational-tactical (corps-army). If you try to decipher Shoigu’s words, Russia intends to create about 10-12 tactical formations (plus supporting units) in the Western District that could theoretically become yet another combined-arms or tank army. For comparison: during the Cold War, the USSR kept a group of troops in Germany, consisting of two tank, three combined-arms and one air armies. According to the strategists, this was the “fist” that was to strike a “dagger blow with access to the English Channel.”

The intentions of the current Kremlin strategies are not as clear as those of their predecessors. After the USSR collapsed and the contingent was withdrawn from Germany, troops in Russia have been stationed chaotically, often outside the European par. Many of them were disbanded. Now, Moscow is trying to gather a “fist” that will pose a threat to the Baltic states, Nordic countries, Poland, and Ukraine. The deployment of 20 formations and units against several NATO battalions stationed in the three Baltic states looks nothing like deterrence attempts. Moscow is most likely creating a permanent powerful grouping on its western borders. This will allow the Kremlin to amass contingents near the borders of Lithuania or Ukraine not situationally, during the exercises, but to have a permanent large number of troops in the immediate vicinity of a potential theatre of military operations. Shoigu did not specify the timeframe for the creation of new military units: their deployment, accommodation, and armament may take several years, but such intentions indicate Moscow’s steadfast course towards militarisation and confrontation with the West.

Stepan Nazarenko

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