Moscow Re-Organizes Russian Armed Forces (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 164


On October 17, Russian forces launched a new offensive in the Avdiivka direction (Ukrinform, October 17). Since then, intense fighting has commenced along various sections of the frontlines. On October 23, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces announced that Russia had launched multiple “heavy attacks” in the “Avdiivka, Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, and Marinka directions” (Kyiv Independent, October 23). This comes as a reaction to Ukraine’s counteroffensive and demonstrates that Russia has been given too much time to adapt and regroup on the battlefield.

The Russian military has set about re-organizing and reinforcing its units in Ukraine to improve defensive positioning and its ability to launch future offensives. In December 2022, as part of wide-ranging military reforms, the Kremlin decided to create five new motorized rifle and airborne assault divisions as well as several new army corps. Russian military officials also agreed to deploy more than ten brigades per division, with the number of soldiers in each expected to increase by two or three times. The plans for several new aviation regiments and brigades and five new artillery divisions were also announced (Meduza, December 21, 2022).

As of September 2023, significant progress has already been seen regarding the formation of these new units. The most recent developments have mainly involved airborne troops. Open-source information shows that the 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade in Ulyanovsk has been re-organized into the 104th Guards Airborne Division after its commander was reportedly killed in Ukraine (Meduza, September 18). Two additional brigades are being formed—the 119th and 299th—that will be added to the 106th and 98th airborne divisions, respectively. The 299th Air Assault Brigade will be moved to Yaroslavl with its current commander and former first deputy commander of the 11th Airborne Assault Brigade, Colonel Dmitry Burov (, August 2)

Russia hopes to reinforce the new divisions with additional mechanized and armored elements. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the 104th Guards Airborne Division will likely be formed along the lines of the 7th and 76th air assault divisions, with the inclusion of tank and artillery battalions (, September 26). Shoigu also announced that two newly formed airborne assault brigades will join the 104th division. In addition, the 52nd Artillery Brigade has been integrated into the ranks of the airborne units. This brigade is an analogue of the high-power artillery brigades of the Russian Ground Forces. The main gun of the brigade is a 152-millimeter (mm) 2A36 Giatsint-B field gun, which represents an important change as the largest caliber of artillery used in the original concept for Russian airborne forces was 122 mm (, August 21).

The new tank battalions demonstrate that the Russian General Staff seemingly reached the same conclusion the Ukrainian military command did in 2015—namely, the need to strengthen air assault units with heavy equipment to increase their firepower. Ukraine added tanks and artillery to these units in 2015 to form the 148th Self-Propelled Artillery Battalion of the Air Assault Forces (, July 23, 2015). This development also reflects the Russian military’s experience in Afghanistan, where a separate tank battalion with T-62 tanks was created as part of the 103rd Separate Guards Airborne Brigade (, May 18, 2016).

Russia has also made progress in organizing the new army corps. The 18th and 25th combined arms armies are being formed, with the land units of the Russian Black Sea Fleet being directly subordinated to the Ground Forces. This is evidenced by the organization of the new formations based on the 22nd Army Corps and the promotion of the command of that corps to the command of the newly created units. The integration of commands was done to prevent the loss of control over the new corps when they are finally deployed (, July 3).

The Russian High Command is placing special emphasis on forming new high-power artillery brigades. For example, the 17th High-Power Artillery Brigade was recently formed in the Leningrad Military District (, September 4). An additional five artillery brigades of the same type are still planned to be formed and will include 200 pieces of artillery each (120 2S7M Malka howitzers and 80 2S4 Tyulpan heavy mortars). Russia, however, does not currently possess sufficient equipment to complete this effort due to heavy losses in Ukraine and the overall wear and tear of artillery barrels (, July 17). It is quite likely that Moscow will turn to North Korea to deal with the shortage. This has been indirectly confirmed by the distribution of training materials to Russian soldiers for the S-23 180-mm heavy gun, which is not currently in service in Russia. This gun was used as the basis for creating North Korea’s high-power artillery systems, including the M-1978 Koksan (Author’s interview, September 22).

Additional efforts have been dedicated to integrating non-Russian units into the regular army. The 25th Combined Arms Army has begun absorbing certain volunteer units, especially those from battalions of the ethnically non-Russian republics. Thus, the 67th Motorized Rifle Division now includes the Bashkortostan 31st Motorized Rifle Regiment and the Tatarstan 72nd Separate Motor Rifle Brigade (, August 22).

Cossack units have been a special focus of this approach (see EDM, February 14, October 10). Russia has used the state-registered Cossacks to infiltrate populations in the border regions, especially those with predominantly non-Russian populations, to keep these nationalities down and potentially help with future mobilizations. Additionally, Moscow has used an increasing number of Cossack conscripts from the Volunteer Assault Corps, which includes the Cossack Don, Terek, Dnepr, and Siberia brigades, as well as the Volga artillery brigade (, July 14;, September 18). The consolidation of Cossack units into one volunteer corps was done to accommodate the increased use of state-registered Cossacks in Ukraine as the winter campaign approaches.

The Kremlin’s ongoing re-organization of its military units has allowed Russian forces to effectively regroup in defending against Ukraine’s counteroffensive and preparing to launch future offensives (see EDM, September 26, October 4). Ukraine maintains the initiative on the battlefield, but disagreements and delays in the West regarding future aid to Kyiv risk giving Russia a window to retake control. The recent clandestine delivery of MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough (Ukrainska Pravda, October 17). As winter approaches, Kyiv desperately needs a recommitment from its Western allies to support the Ukrainian military until Russia is soundly defeated.