In Preparation for Spring Offensive, Ukraine Organizes Additional Assault Brigades
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 52
Before the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry announced the creation of additional assault brigades to be called the “Offensive Guard,” which includes the new formations “Azov,” “Spartan,” “Iron Border,” “Frontier” and “Fury,” along with other units aimed at liberating the occupied Ukrainian territories, including in Donbas and Crimea (Storm.mvs.gov.ua, accessed March 21). In the first two weeks after their creation, almost 15.000 volunteers had enrolled, with 800 having already passed the military medical exams and being deployed to their places of military service (Hromadske.ua, February 3; Novynarnia, March 20). While the precise locations of their deployment is not publicly available, these forces will likely take part in the anticipated counteroffensive operations in Ukraine’s occupied territories.
In the Ukrainian army, assault brigades traditionally consist of current and former military and law enforcement officers, as volunteers can choose which section they prefer to serve in: National Guard, State Border Service or National Police. Overall, the National Guard deploys six brigades, while the National Police and State Border Service deploy one each (Focus.ua, March 21). First and foremost, these volunteers consist of those who obtained experience during the military campaign (anti-terrorist operation) in Donbas in 2014–2015, as well as some who have already fought against Russia’s full-scale re-invasion in 2022. As of March 11, almost 28,000 applications have been received for these units (Interfax, March 11). All candidates must pass a military medical exam that includes psychological and physical tests. After successful completion, recruits are enrolled in their selected brigade for training, which is planned for a few months, before they are deployed to the frontlines.
Other advantages of joining these brigades include increased social welfare benefits, improved career prospects and the opportunity to serve alongside veterans who possess valuable military experience of fighting in urban areas. For example, the Azov regiment was actively involved in the defense of Mariupol and is now seeking more recruits for the impending counteroffensive (Storm.mvs.gov.ua, accessed March 21). In the meantime, many applicants prefer to serve with their fellow countrymen who come from the same region, which is made possible by the applicants’ ability to choose which brigade they want to join.
All in all, the Offensive Guard will be equipped with the modern weaponry recently provided by the West and other international donors, including armored personnel carriers, tanks and heavy artillery. This equipment will help Ukrainian forces in performing various tasks, including launching assaults, de-mining and liberating territory (Ukrinform, March 4). The recent military aid supplied to Kyiv includes French CAESAR self-propelled howitzers; Italian Melara Mod howitzers from the 1950s; US HIMARS systems and their Czech RM-70 “colleagues,” with the nickname “Vampire”; Finnish 120 KRH 92 heavy mortars; Swedish Bofors L70 anti-aircraft guns from the late 1940s; British front-line Spartan “armored taxis”; German Gepard anti-aircraft tanks as well as riverine combat patrol boats; and the Croatian DOK-ING MV-4 and MV-10 demining complexes (BBC News Ukrainian, March 4).
In early March 2023, the Western allies also announced that up to 14 British Challenger 2 tanks, more than 60 M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and at least 100 Leopard 1A5 and Leopard 2A6 tanks would be provided to the Ukrainian Armed Forces (Defense-ua.com, March 4). Additionally, Slovakia recently handed over the first four MiG-29 Soviet fighter aircraft to Kyiv, and the remaining nine should arrive in the coming weeks (24tv.ua, March 24).
According to the chief of the Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, such measures are taking place amid the active hostilities around Bakhmut and in Donbas, which will determine the future course of the war. The next three months will be decisive Budanov says, as some media reports that, now, more than 320,000 Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil, which is twice as much as Moscow used during the beginning of its full-scale invasion last year (Euromaidan Press, February 2). According to Czech President Petr Pavel, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have only one chance to conduct a successful counteroffensive due to the limits of Western military assistance combined with shortages in Ukrainian manpower. Furthermore, some policymakers in the United States have expressed their concerns regarding further military assistance to Kyiv, with many members of Congress opposing a “blank check” for Ukraine (Focus.ua, March 20).
Furthermore, the creation of private military companies (PMCs) is proliferating in Russia (e.g., Wagner Group, Redut, Patriot and Slavonic Corps), and these forces are being used increasingly in attempts to break the Ukrainian defensive lines near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marynka and Vuhledar. Their ultimate goal is to reach the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, as Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the order to seize all of Donbas by the end of March 2023. Nevertheless, the Russian Armed Forces are hurting for manpower and are desperate for light infantry units, equipment and other needed supplies (Glavred.info, February 24).
For its part, besides tanks, aircraft, heavy artillery and 152 and 155 millimeter (mm) shells, the Ukrainian army needs more light mortars of the 60 mm caliber, as well as more grenade launchers—automatic and manual—of the 30 and 40 mm calibers, anti-tank grenade launchers and thermobaric grenade launchers (Kyiv Post, February 16).
Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense and Wagner sponsor Yevgeny Prigozhin are headed toward a serious collision, as Priogzhin has accused the Russian top brass of attempts to eliminate Wagner forces by not providing them with vital ammunition, shells and other weaponry (Svoboda, February 21). Such conflict could seriously undermine the Kremlin’s announced spring offensive and could lead to significant losses—similar to what was recently observed around Vuhledar, where Russians lost at least 130 armored vehicles and many more troops in only a few days of fighting (Nv.ua, February, 13). The press secretary for Ukraine’s defense forces, Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky, stated in the Vuhledar direction alone, 150 to 300 Russian marines are killed every day and 36 tanks were destroyed in only one week (Dsnews.ua, February 13).
While Moscow is trying to “systematize” the PMCs with their low motivation and resistance to the Russian Defense Ministry, balancing between dozens of warlords, Kyiv is using this period to bolster additional assault brigades with experienced combatants and incoming modern weaponry from the West. To master all this Western equipment, Kyiv launched an unprecedented army draft campaign and Ukrainian society took up the call. The recently organized assault brigades provided with modern equipment and Western standardized training serve as proof of active preparations for the upcoming Ukrainian full-scale counteroffensive scheduled for this spring. And the hope is growing that this particular counteroffensive might surpass the results of last year’s counteroffensive, when Ukrainian forces liberated 6.000 square kilometers of Russian-occupied territory (RBC, September 13).