Russian defense minister reintroducing divisions, signaling shift to large-scale combat capability

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and top Russian military brass are reintroducing several divisions to the order of battle (OOB), as he marks his fifth year in his current position.

The structural-level shifts are a departure from former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who served from 2007 to 2012 and moved the OOB to a brigade-based model.

The reemergence of divisions in the Red Army is being interpreted in some quarters as a signal the General Staff is preparing to conduct “large-scale” warfare against a conventionally-armed enemy.

That interpretation also fits with the notion that the Russian military may be preoccupied with meeting and defeating a threat from NATO. That said, some of the details regarding the shift in OOB, as well as the location of the new formations, indicate that Moscow may be digging in for a prolonged conflict in neighboring Ukraine, giving the Kremlin a range of escalation options.

In an interview with Russian media, the commander-in-chief of the Ground Forces, Colonel General Oleg Salyukov, said that under Shoigu’s leadership several combined-arms brigades have been reorganized into divisions. He referred to seven divisions across three military districts, before saying they can increase firepower and be capable of striking over a wider front.

Those divisions recreated in the Western Military District: The 2nd (Taman) Motorized Rifle Division—Kalininets, the 4th (Kantemir) Tank Division—Naro-Fominsk, the 3rd Motorized Rifle Division—Valyuki, and the 144thMotorized Rifle Division—Klintsy. Two are in the Southern MD and one in the Central MD: the 150th Motorized Rifle Division—Kadamovskiy and the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division—Khankala (Southern MD), as well as the 90th Tank Division—Chebarkul (Central MD). Two more divisions are being built in the Southern MD and are scheduled for completion by the end of 2018. So the overall plan for the reformed divisions is four deployed in each of the Western and Southern MDs, with one in the Central MD. [Source: “Salyukov Confirms Corrections to Armed Forces’ Structure,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 13, 2018 — Volume 15, Issue 38.]

Analysis: Other evidence indicates that the Russians are shoring up their western flank — for Ukraine and/or NATO. Troops there are receiving the most modern weapons systems, including Iskander air defense missiles and Armata tanks. Based on these findings, the statements of Russian military officials and additional Russian media reporting, it appears as though the Armed Forces are implementing changes in force makeup, structure, and capabilities based on experience in Georgia (2008), in Ukraine, and Syria, with the joint objective of fighting in Ukraine and keeping NATO off-balance and at arm’s length.

The changes aren’t as alarming, perhaps, as the Russian military brass’ expectations of having to utilize the new force structure, weapons, and tactics in the near future.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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