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ISW: Russia’s troop reserves align with its attack efforts, not predictive of future moves

Russian reserve troop concentrations are highest along frontlines in southern and western Ukraine, mirroring ongoing Russian offensive efforts around Bakhmut and the Kupiansk-Svatove line but not necessarily predictive of future operations, ISW says.
isw russian soldier looted items popasna luhansk oblast ukraine spring 2022
Russian soldier with looted items in Popasna, Luhansk Oblast, Ukraine. Spring 2022. Photo: RFE/RL
ISW: Russia’s troop reserves align with its attack efforts, not predictive of future moves

Russia’s reported reserve concentrations throughout Ukraine align with assessed priorities along the front but may not indicate future Russian operations, the US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War says.

Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets reported that Russian forces maintain 17 regiments, 16 battalions, and two regiment-battalion level tactical detachments in reserve. Of the approximately 60,000-62,000 total Russian personnel in these reserve units, only around 20,000 tactical and operational-tactical reserve personnel are equipped with weapons and gear.

Mashovets noted that Russia’s reserves are primarily concentrated in the operational zone of the Southern Grouping of Forces, followed by the Western, Dnepr, Zaporizhzhia, Eastern, and Central Groupings of Forces. The Southern Grouping of Forces, responsible for the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, sees the highest reserve concentration, aligning with Russian forces’ focus on offensive efforts in these areas.

Mashovets pointed out that it’s unsurprising for Russia’s Dnepr Grouping of Forces, situated in occupied Kherson Oblast, to rank third in terms of reserve numbers. This is because Russian forces might be apprehensive about a potential Ukrainian threat in the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian officials have recently mentioned that over 70,000 Russian personnel are present on the east bank of the Dnipro River in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts, although many are concentrated further in the rear.

The reserves of the Dnepr Grouping of Forces could readily shift towards the Zaporizhzhia direction if the situation demanded it. Mashovets further analyzed that the Central Grouping of Forces, responsible for the Lyman direction, maintains the lowest reserve concentration due to its smaller operational zone, necessitating fewer troops.

ISW’s assessment suggests that the Central Grouping of Forces maintains a lower reserve concentration because Russian activities in the Lyman direction are likely intended to support the Western Grouping of Forces’ operations along the Kupiansk-Svatove line, as ISW will soon elaborate in an upcoming operational analysis of the Russian offensive in the Kharkiv-Luhansk axis. As long as Russia retains strategic initiative across the theater, they can easily shift their reserve concentrations between various front sectors.

ISW’s ongoing assessment maintains that if Ukraine adopts an active defense strategy throughout the theater in 2024, it would potentially relinquish the strategic initiative to Russia. This would enable Moscow to dictate the location, timing, and scale of conflicts within Ukraine and allocate Russian resources accordingly, placing Ukraine in a reactive position. However, Ukraine could retain control over the strategic initiative if it manages to contest it effectively.

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