Russia announces drawdown but continues to move forces close to Ukrainian border

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on 14 February that Russian forces would begin wrapping up exercises and withdrawing from positions along the Ukrainian border, an announcement that was repeated by his ministry's spokesperson, Major General Igor Konashenkov, the next day.

The announcement was followed by a flurry of video clips posted by the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) purportedly showing equipment being loaded onto trains and being returned to units' permanent bases. The footage claims to show the withdrawal of equipment from Crimea by the 291st Motorised Regiment normally stationed in Chechnya and the 136th Motorised Brigade normally stationed in Dagestan. Later footage posted by the Russian MoD shows trains carrying this equipment out of Crimea over the Kerch Strait bridge.

Additional footage posted by the Russian MoD appears to show T-72B3M main battle tanks from the 6th Tank Brigade loading onto trains near a known camp in eastern Kursk, Janes' analysis of which is inconclusive. At times the footage shows tanks heading towards the railway station and boarding railway wagons, while other clips show them returning to the equipment camp.

Despite Shoigu and Maj Gen Konashenkov's announcement and the subsequent footage posted by the Russian MoD, Janes' analysis of social media and satellite imagery indicates that Russian forces have left the equipment stores established during the ongoing build-up and have moved to new positions significantly closer to the Ukrainian border.

Janes has identified the likely deployment of district-level S-300V air defence systems and 2S4 and 2S7M long-range artillery, along with forces from the 1st Guards Tank Army's 4th Tank Division and 2nd Motorised Division deploying to two or three sites less than 30 km from the Ukrainian border in Belgorod. At least 17 helicopters, including Mi-8AMTSh attack transports and Mi-24 attack helicopters, have also deployed to a site north of Belgorod city, less than 40 km from the Ukrainian border.

Janes has identified potential similar movements by Russian troops stationed at the 36th Combined Arms Army camp in Rechitsa, eastern Belarus, which satellite imagery from 14 February showed to be almost empty. The 41st Combined Arms Army camp in Yelnya, Smolensk, has also seen a significant drawdown since early February, with no sign of the troops returning to their permanent bases.

Satellite imagery has also revealed the forward deployment of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft to multiple sites near the border. Maxar imagery from mid-February showed the deployment of almost 70 helicopters to the equipment camp at Novoozerne in southwestern Crimea and 10 Su-34 attack aircraft to Primorsko-Akhtarsk airbase on the Sea of Azov.

The Russian Navy has also continued to bolster its forces in both the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. As of 16 February, Russia had moved one Kilo-class patrol submarine and six additional landing ship tank (LST) vessels from the Northern and Baltic Fleet into the Black Sea, bringing the total in the Black Sea to 13 LSTs, supported by at least five smaller landing craft from the Caspian Flotilla.

In the Mediterranean Sea, Russia currently maintains a significantly expanded naval presence comprising two Slava-class cruisers and two Udaloy-class destroyers from the Pacific and Northern Fleets, as well as a sizeable Black Sea Fleet force of frigates, corvettes, minesweepers, and two additional Kilo-class submarines.


The announced withdrawal opens a window for cautious optimism for Russian de-escalation with Ukraine and the West. Russian state media has been reporting on the stated drawdown, and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova even stated on 15 February that the day “will go into history as the day Western war propaganda failed. They have been disgraced and destroyed without a single shot being fired.”

The withdrawal of some units identified by the Russian MoD, such as the 3rd and 150th Motorised Divisions, also matter very little. Both of these units are permanently stationed well within 250 km of the Ukrainian border and could easily move back to forward positions at short notice.

Moreover, there are no indicators that a large-scale drawdown has begun. Russian actions, specifically the movement of Western Military District assets in Belgorod, Central Military District forces in Bryansk, and Eastern Military District forces in southeastern Belarus, are inconsistent with a drawdown, with all forces appearing to be moving closer to the Ukrainian border. Some recent footage posted to social media also indicates Russia is still moving forces west towards the border from deeper inside Russia.



Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on 14 February that Russian forces would begin wrap...

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