Russian Ground Forces Posture Towards the West
(Source: Chatham House; issued April 04, 2019)
Charles Dick examines the reform and modernization of Russia’s military and argues that the new force structure enables high readiness for short warning, possibly complex conflicts in former Soviet and satellite countries.


-- The loss of former satellites and significant Soviet territories as a consequence of the break-up of the USSR left Russia feeling unjustly dispossessed, humiliated and vulnerable to a West that in subsequent years came to be regarded once again as an enemy.

-- Long neglected, the Russian military could neither contribute to a reassertion of ‘great power’ status, nor even guarantee the diminished country’s security. Under President Putin, however, a far-reaching and costly programme of military reform, rationalization and modernization has made the army formidable again, especially in Russia’s west and southwest. The military is again prepared for defence, and to help implement a revisionist programme.

-- Even more important than qualitative upgrading is the army’s doctrinal modernization. It is readying itself conceptually for a spectrum of conflict from nuclear through limited conventional to ‘new generation’ war, in which the military component is only a part, and not necessarily the most important. Deception and dissimulation are essential elements of Russian management of conflict, especially in its (often decisive) initial period.

-- Russia’s preference is not to telegraph, through its peacetime dispositions, possible wartime intentions that could provoke NATO counter-preparations. Thus, with the inevitable exception of in Kaliningrad oblast, major forces are not held threateningly close to the Baltic states. For Russia, the ongoing Ukrainian conflict necessitates an intimidatory forward deployment that allows for a rapid response in time of crisis. Similarly, the unrest characterizing the Caucasus region, and Russia’s hostility towards Georgia, require a forward military presence.

-- Should a major conflict come with NATO, Russia expects to achieve military surprise – a force multiplier – and that operations will assume a fast-moving, manoeuvre character from the outset. Typically, engagements are likely to be clashes where both sides are on the move. This is the sort of warfare in which the Russian military believes it excels. The objective would be to fracture a hostile coalition in which some members have only limited stakes at risk.

-- The new force structure emphasizes high readiness for short warning, possibly complex conflicts in former Soviet and satellite countries, hence the original stress on responsive and agile brigades. However, experience in Ukraine suggests that Russia must prepare for possibly prolonged operations, even ones potentially involving NATO. Larger-scale, longer, potentially nuclear conflict demands some return to more sustainable, hard-hitting divisional organization. Moreover, the number of operational-level headquarters in the west of Russia has grown from four to six armies. Their nuclear capability has been enhanced, and official statements suggest that the threshold for their use has lowered.

-- Russia has evolved a coherent concept and force structure to prosecute ‘new generation’ war. It underscores its preparedness to fight despite its relative weakness in other than purely military terms. A consequently assertive foreign policy emanating from Moscow will carry with it the risk of war through miscalculation, even hubris. Is the Russian army able to fight and win against a peer competitor, let alone an enemy alliance? Its several evident weaknesses, some systemic, cast doubt on this proposition.

Click here for the full report (18 PDF pages) on the Chatham House website.


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