Russian land forces’ movements in October

There has been an increased number of reports about the current (perceived) Russian Armed Forces build-up near Ukraine.

On the one hand, there are units belonging to the 41st CAA that have left Pogonovo, while we are also seeing an increased military presence in Yelnya. There have also been various videos posted online on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube supposedly showing elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army’s 4th Tank Division on the move towards Ukraine.

The purpose of this post is to look at what has been happening and provide a preliminary assessment of the situation. The bottom line is that invasion of Ukraine is presently unlikely. I do not consider the current movement to be Ukraine-related. However, as Mr Michel Kofman noted, the situation merits vigilance.  

In March this year, Russia redeployed elements of the 41st CAAs to Pogonovo. These included:

– 2 BTGs from the 74th MRB;

– A BTG from the 35th MRB;

– A BTG from the 90th Tank Division;

– A BUK-M3 battalion from the 61st Air Defence Brigade;

– An Iskander Battalion from the 119th Missile Brigade;

– A TOS-1A company and assorted equipment from the 10th NCB Regiment; and

– 2 artillery battalions (2S19M2 and 9P140 Uragan) from the 120th Artillery Brigade.

Although Pogonovo was listed as one of the training ranges where Zapad would take place, there was very little movement there. None of which related to the abovementioned units.

Only in mid-October did the drawdown in Pogonovo start. As this was occurring, new units began arriving in Yelnya, in the Smolensk Oblast. These two events were related. Elements from Pogonovo have shifted to Yelnya.

Yelnya hosts the 59th Tank Regiment from the 144th Motor Rifle Division of the 20th Combined Arms Army.

The division is under strengthen. It only has some two tank and four motor rifle battalions. Therefore, one of the possibilities was that the 41st CAA could reinforce the 20th CAA. But I don’t think that’s the case.

We if look at SAR imagery of the Yelnya we will see that the new equipment is being kept separately from the 59th Tank Regiment. There doesn’t seem to be any integration going on at the moment to improve interoperability and cohesion.  

The same happened in Pogonovo. The 41st CAA was just camping there.

The main question is why. Unfortunately, the weather of Yelnya has been cloudy for the past few days so there is no satellite imagery to confirm what equipment exactly has been brought in (weather is to improve now so hopefully this week we will see what they are cooking over there).

If the equipment moved in included assets such as Iskander or TOS-1A then I don’t think the goal is to strengthen the 144th Division. These are army-level assets, which the 20th CAA already deploys. This combined with units being kept separately could indicate that Yelnya is just another step in the move towards the northern parts of Western Russia. Why there?

There is a 500km gap in the Russian ground forces’ presence between Pskov and Smolensk. This is an ideal place for a new army-level formation that could be tasked with securing the “Latvian flank” and thus the approach to Moscow. It can also be used to reinforce Belarusian units.

Are the current movements unusual?

Developments around the 41st CAA obviously are. But I am not yet convinced about the 4th Tank Division. On the 27th of October, the Russian MoD reported that 25 (sub)units of the 1st GTA are conducting various exercises to achieve the honorary ‘Shock’ title.

The Baltic Sea Fleet units are going through the same process.

It seems that exercises to confirm the title occur late in the year, in October and November.

It is therefore possible that the ongoing movement of the 1st GTA units is linked to this process.  

We will continue to observe how the Russian force posturing changes and whether it shifts from defence into offence. So far this has not happened, but if the build-up is occurring, we are in the early stages of it.

Konrad Muzyka