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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Institute for the Study of War

Russia's Military Posture: Ground Forces Order of Battle

Institute for the Study of War

Mar 7, 2018

Russia has redeployed and reorganized its ground forces since 2014. That effort has reshaped the threat environment in Europe that America, its allies, and its partners must contend with. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute are releasing a joint report on Russia's ground forces posture. 

ISW Research Analyst Catherine Harris and CTP Director Frederick W. Kagan detail how Russia has arrayed its ground forces and how Western leaders should prepare for the ways in which Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to wage war.

Key takeaways from the ISW-CTP Order of Battle study include:

  • Russia is trying to build a military force optimized for large-scale combat as well as hybrid warfare. Russia is testing new asymmetric capabilities on the Ukrainian and Syrian battlefields and subsequently incorporating them into conventional force structures.
  • Russia's ground forces are well positioned to conduct a very short-notice mechanized assault on Ukraine against which Kyiv's military likely stands little chance, particularly if Russia combined the conventional invasion with an escalation in the hybrid war in Ukraine's east, a distraction from the direction of Moldova, and Russian-fueled political unrest in Kyiv. Russia can try to leverage this threat to coerce the Ukrainian government.
  • The Russian ground forces' disposition near the Baltics does not suggest an intent to conduct large-scale, short-notice conventional mechanized operations. Russia could concentrate significant conventional combat power against the Baltic states if it chose to, but its posture suggests it is prioritizing a hybrid approach. NATO has wisely deployed mechanized forces to the Baltics; it may need to deploy more and must remain constantly vigilant against the risk of a sudden Russian attack. Yet the U.S. and its allies must also be prepared for the kind of Russian aggression that mechanized forces alone cannot defend against.
  • The U.S. and its allies should not focus narrowly on any one form of possible future war with Russia. Putin and the Russian general staff are working hard to create options in all forms of warfare, while demonstrating a preference for low-cost approaches. Over-investing in conventional deterrence and defense can lead to ignoring hybrid threats that could achieve devastating effects. Ignoring the conventional threat, on the other hand, could leave U.S. allies and partners open to rapid decisive thrusts.
  • The United States should re-evaluate the most likely Russian courses of action and reconsider the mix of military and non-military tools required to defend NATO allies and Ukraine from further Russian aggression. America and its NATO allies must take a balanced approach to dealing with the multifarious threats posed by Moscow and avoid the oscillations between confidence and fear that have characterized the discussion of Russian military power.                           

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The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization. ISW advances an informed understanding of military affairs through reliable research, trusted analysis, and innovative education. We are committed to improving the nation's ability to execute military operations and respond to emerging threats in order to achieve U.S. strategic objectives.

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