The question here is what Russian troops can we account for in Ukraine.
Where are they?
And where are they going?
Presently, there are ~280,000 on active duty in the Russian Ground Forces.
~150,000 were mobilized for action in Ukraine following US and Ukrainian refusual to negotiate a security treat proposed by Russia in December 2021.
So, 150,000 is the number
Elements of the 29th, 35th and 36th Combined Arms Armies (CAAs) were deployed to Belarus, supported by additional S-400 systems, a squadron of Su-25 and a squadron of Su-35; additional S-400 systems and four Su-30 fighters were deployed to the country for joint use with Belarus.
Russia also had the 20th and 8th CAAs and the 22nd AC regularly deployed near the Ukrainian border, while elements of 41st CAA were deployed to Yelnya, elements of 1st TA and 6th CAA were deployed to Voronezh and elements of the 49th and the 58th CAA were deployed to Crimea.
The 1st and 2nd AC were rumored to be operating in the Donbass region during this time.
Russian Tactical Concepts
Let’s drill into some basic organizational analysis.
Russian positional assignments are typically based on a battalion-sized unit or “battalion tactical group” (BTG) comprising 700-1000 troops.
BTGs are normally deployed in a mobile defense covering some 10 km of front and 10 km of depth supported by artillary and tactical aviation.
A regiment will consist of 2-3 BTGs though typically structured as specialty units (Marine or special forces). Similarly, a brigade may consist of 3 or more BTGs with supporting units covering a mobile defense front of 50-60 km front and comparable depth.
Note that in the Russian Army, “Guards” units are considered Tier 1 troops.
“Guards” (гвардия) units trace back to elite military units from the imperial period (pre-Bolshevik) and was subsequently adopted as a distinction for various units and formations of the Soviet Union and the modern Russian Federation.
So, when you see “Guards” you are dealing with the first team.
Also, recall airborne troops are not used in urban combat. They are reserved as blocking units or deployed to block a retreat.
When airborne troops disapper, assume they’ll reappear when you don’t want them.
Before going to the map, let’s first review the symbols:
- III – regiment.
- X – brigade
- XX – division (2 or more brigades or equivalent)
- XXX – corps (2 or more divisions or equivalent)
- XXXX – army (multiple divisions or corps).
Units Around Kiev
Kiev is (or was) blocked from the west by the 35th Combined Arms Army headquartered in Kolensti (Коленці) ~85 km northwest of Kiev. Units subordinated to the 35 CAA include (counterclockwise):
- 45th Separate Guards Special Purpose Brigade (airborne infantry)
- 217th Guards Airborne Regiment (attached to the 98th Guards Airborne Division)
- 64th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, a mechanized infantry brigade equipped with T-80BVM tanks, and BMP-2 armored personnel carriers. T-80s are older tanks from the Soviet era based on the T-64, while incorporating features from the later T-72. Similarly, the BMP-2 is a second-generation, amphibious infantry fighting vehicle introduced in the 1980s in the Soviet Union.
- 37th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade
- 5th Separate Guards Tank Brigade equipped with T-72B3 tanks
- 36th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade equipped with T-72B3 and BMP-2s
This appears to be a blocking force threatening Kiev but not positioned for assault. The unit positions appear focused on isolating Kieve from Ukrainian forces in Operational Command West including
- 14th Mechanized Brigade ‘Roman the Great‘ (MU A2331), Volodymyr-Volynsky, Volyn Oblast
- 24th Mechanized Brigade ‘King Daniel‘ (MU A0998), Yavoriv, Lviv Oblast
- 10th Mountain Assault Brigade (MU A4267), Kolomyia, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast
- 128th Mountain Assault ‘Zakarpattia’ Brigade (MU A1556), Mukachevo, Zakarpattia Oblast
- 44th Artillery Brigade ‘Danylo Apostol‘ (MU A1428), Ternopil, Ternopil Oblast
- 39th Air Defence Missile Regiment , Volodymyr-Volynsky, Volyn Oblast
- 703rd Operational Support [Engineer] Regiment, Sambir, Lviv Oblast
- 130th Reconnaissance Battalion , Dubno, Rivne Oblast
To the east of Kieve — and all alone — is the 228th Motorized Rifle Regiment. It’s seemingly a picket for the 90th Guards Tank Division – a rear guard.
Much of the Western media reports about Ukrainian success near Kiev involves attacks on this isolated regiment.
Rear guards give ground in a mobile defense. Don’t confuse retreat with defeat. Think of Sitting Bull at Little Big Horn – scouts retreated as Custer advanced.
We could walk through the units to the East but they are the assault troops but also holding positions. They include:
- 27th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade
- 1st Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment (inside Ukraine),
- 2nd Guards Motorized Rifle Division (just over the border in Russia)
- 12th Guards Tank Regiment, 4th Guards Tank Division
- 1st Guards Tank Army (just over the border in Russia)
- 6th Guards Army (just over the border in Russia)
- 200th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade
- 144th Guards Motorized Rifle Division
- 47th Guards Tank Division
- 3rd Motorized Rifle Division
Then there is the 58th Combined Arms Army operating out of Crimea. We’ll leave them alone.
All in, there appears to be only about 50-60 total Russian BTGs in Ukraine — roughly 50,000 – 60,000 troops in total deployment.
That means only ~1/3 of the 150,000 deployed appeared to have been committed.
Which means there are ~100,000 Russian troops mobilized and still in Russia (hint – I named them).
Phase 1 is Over – Phase 2 Begins
On March 29, 2022, the Russian Defense Ministry decided to cardinally decrease the military activity in the direction of Kiev and Chernigov,.
“Due to the fact that the talks on preparing an agreement on Ukraine’s neutrality and non-nuclear status as well as on providing Ukraine with security guarantees are moving to the practical sphere, considering the principles discussed during the meeting today, in order to bolster mutual confidence and create the necessary conditions for the further talks and the achievement of the final goal – the coordination and the signing of the aforementioned agreement – the Russian Defense Ministry has made a decision to cardinally, several-fold decrease the military activity in the direction of Kiev and Chernigov.”
Where are they going?
The point is Kiev was never the main event – it was always the feint.
And the blocking units successfully pinned down the Ukrainian ground forces while the Russian aerospace forces trashed the air units and established air superiority.
Sure, a few low flyer helos, operating at 50 FT, can evade most air defenses.
They might even light up a refinery just over the border.
But, they don’t survive very long.
Russia has air superiority.
It’s 670 km from Slovyansk to Kiev. A killing zone for Ukrainian armor or mechanized units to traverse — flat, open country — vulnerable to air and rocket strikes, especially as Russia has largely finished off the Ukraine’s high-altitude air defenses east of the Dniepr in the last week.
But, for Phase 2 to work, Russia needs a bridge.
It appears they now have one.
Bridge Over Seversky Donets
The Seversky Donets originates in the Central Russian Upland, north of Belgorod, flows south-east through Ukraine (Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts) and then again through Russia (Rostov Oblast) to join the river Don, about 100 km (62 mi) from the Sea of Azov.
The Donets is the fourth longest river in Ukraine and the biggest in the Eastern Ukraine.
The image below shows Russian vehicles crossing a temporary bridge over the Seversky Donets southeast of Izium within the past few days.
The vicinity of the bridge saw two weeks of fighting and Ukrainian artillery bombardment, which killed among others the deputy head of engineering for Russia’s Western Military District. But as of the time this image was taken the bridgehead is so large that there is evidently no need for guards, defensive emplacements, or air defense within sight of the bridge.
This route allows Russian forces to bypass Ukrainian holdouts just south of Izium (who may have been cleared out already, as of now).
It appears Phase 2 now begins with a staging for an advance down the M-03 highway to help effect a historic encirclement of Ukrainian garrisons in Slaviansk-Kramatorsk (and Severodonetsk-Lisichansk.)
The highway, the Sversky-Donets are shown below.
Russian forces are now advancing near the border of Donetsk and Zaporozhia, west of Ugledar.
It appears Russia’s strategic reserve in the Crimea has been committed to the Cauldron.
The involvement of “mainland” Russian fores (not just Donetsk and Lugansk) in the central and northern Donbass fronts has increased markedly in recent days.
With heavy artillery support, Donetsk forces are slowly advancing through very difficult enemy defenses west of Gorlovka, north of Donetsk city.
The next 6 weeks will tell the tale.