Russian build-up on Ukrainian border enters new stage

Following a relative lull in activity after 1 January, Russia's armed forces appear to have entered their highest level of activity and movement since the autumn-winter build-up began in late October.

Evidence indicates activity from all of Russia's major regional commands, and Moscow has also signalled that it will move a large number of surface vessels, including six landing ship tanks (LSTs), a cruiser, and a destroyer, into the Mediterranean Sea, where they could easily continue into the Black Sea. Janes expects the LSTs to enter the Mediterranean Sea by mid-week, followed by Pacific Fleet vessels by the end of the week. Russia also appears to be activating some troops and may be beginning to move aircraft and ground-support crews to operational airbases.

Russian troops and equipment arriving in Belarus in January 2022. (Russian MoD)

By far, the most significant of the movements is the mass deployment of forces from all five Eastern Military District (EMD) commands into Belarus under the guise of the Russian-Belarusian exercise, Allied Resolve 2022'. The EMD has deployed at least 15 units from all four of its combined arms armies and the Pacific Fleet since 4 January, with advanced elements having arrived in Belarus on 17 January.

The EMD force is well beyond its normal training, with the district's ground forces typically not leaving the district. It is equipped with at least two Iskander-M battalions, both of which have been observed carrying 9M273 ballistic missiles, long-range BM-27 multiple rocket launchers, and a large number of main battle tanks including the modernised T-80BVM and T-80BV, supported by army-level communications and logistics.

The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has also announced the deployment of 12 Su-35Ss, two battalions of S-400 air-defence systems, and a Pantsyr-S air-defence battalion to Belarus as part of the exercises, with the combat aircraft and Pantsyrs having arrived.

In addition to the large-scale mobilisation of EMD ground forces, Janes has found evidence suggesting that Russia's remaining regional commands are also beginning to activate and deploy their forces. Units from the Central, Southern, and Western Military Districts appear to be deploying additional equipment, including tanks, artillery, and communications systems, to established sites near the Ukrainian border.


Estimates indicate there is equipment for 50–65 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in regions bordering Ukraine in both Russia and Belarus. Around half of these are drawn from units permanently deployed within 250 km of the border, with the remainder having been deployed during the spring or the more substantial October build-up. The Russian MoD claims Russia has 168 permanent-readiness BTGs, indicating around a third of them are now stationed near the Ukrainian border.

The ground forces units with equipment deployed around the border do not appear to be accompanied by the requisite number of troops required to operate all the equipment present. There are indicators that Russia has begun deploying troops to these garrisons. Unverified footage appearing on social media over the weekend of 15–16 January indicated the potential deployment of Russian troops from the Kemerovo region, which houses two units that have forward-deployed equipment to the Yelnya garrison: the 74th Motorised Brigade and the 120th Artillery Brigade.

Subsequent satellite imagery of the camp captured on 19 January indicated a rise in personnel at the camp corresponding with this potential deployment. Some tents appeared to have had heating units turned on, melting the snow on their roofs, while the ground around the tents had been turned into a muddy slush indicating heavy footfall.

Although Russia has activated some troops, it is still required to move a significant number to the camps; it is likely that this could be accomplished within around 72 hours, if required. Final indicators of military action would likely include the activation of the Russian Airborne Forces, military airlift, and the large-scale deployment of air assets to forward airbases.



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