Recent Russian actions suggest a new stage of the Russian threat to Ukraine—and potentially to the Caucasus, Belarus, or the Baltic States as well—that could presage a new large-scale military operation.
First, in 2016, Russia created twenty-five division formations and fifteen brigades, while raising manpower by only 10,000 men. This suggests the possibility that Russia may aim to wage protracted large-scale war using the Soviet model, with a Soviet-type army composed of “skeleton units” that existed solely on paper until they were called up as part of the process of mass mobilization. That such mobilization may be under consideration is apparent from the Kavkaz-2016 and other military exercises in 2016 where Moscow mobilized forces from the Ministry of Interior, banks to pay soldiers’ wages in the fields, and hospitals to provide field hospitals, as well as entire provincial civilian administrations. Russia is apparently thinking about possible protracted contingencies, and is returning to fantasies of a Soviet-type military and mobilization effort.
Second, as part of that military process in 2016-2017, Moscow created the 1st Guards Tank Army, the 40th Army, and the 8th Army, and deployed them all around Ukraine’s borders. The 8th Army headquarters is at Rostov-On-Don, from where it could strike toward the Caucasus if necessary, or be air or sealifted to the Middle East. Moreover, any of these armies could quickly be moved toward Belarus to put down unrest there, if Belarus’ government cannot or will not do so. In addition, as David Batashvili notes at EurasiaNet, Russia has created four new divisions: the 150th Motorized Rifle Division in the Rostov region, the 10th Armored Division and the 3rd Mechanized Division in the Voronezh region, and the 144th Motorized Rifle Division near Smolensk.