Russia begins massive exercises in the Barents Sea with warships and combat aircraft; Army units move away from Ukrainian border

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Russia’s Defense Ministry said military units in the south and west had started sending troops back to permanent deployment locations while the navy said it was launching massive drills in the Barents Sea.

“We have always said that after the end of the exercise, these stages which must be completed within a certain period of time, the troops return to their places of permanent deployment, this also happens this time. There is nothing new here. It’s a normal process,” Peskov told reporters.

There is nothing extraordinary about the return of some troops to their bases after completing exercises, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday when asked if the return of military units meant a de-escalation.

Meanwhile, the Russian Northern Fleet announced on Tuesday that it had started military exercises in the Barents Sea with the participation of around 20 ships, including the missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) and the frigate Admiral Gorshkov.

“In the Barents Sea, the various forces of the Northern Fleet have started to conduct a planned exercise under the leadership of the Commander of the Northern Fleet… which is taking place in accordance with the training plan of the Russian Armed Forces for 2022”, the fleet told reporters.

In total, up to 20 ships and support ships from the Northern Fleet are involved in the exercise in the Barents Sea, more than 10 aircraft from the air forces and air defense forces from the Northern Fleet are also involved in exercises.

The purpose of sea maneuvers is to practice the actions of the Northern Fleet forces to protect Russian national interests in the world ocean, as well as to counter military threats against Russia from the sea and ocean.

“As part of the exercise, it is planned to practice measurements to verify the absence of tracking and search for foreign submarines, establish control of navigation in the Barents Sea and the flight of aircraft over- on it,” the fleet said.

Russian-Ukrainian crisis

The crisis on the Ukrainian border, triggered by Russia’s huge military buildup, appears to have escalated further, with some Western experts saying the latter could invade the neighboring state as early as this week.

Russia and its close ally Belarus are conducting exercises near the Ukrainian border. Likewise, Ukraine and its Western allies have begun to gather troops and bring weapons to this part of Europe to prepare for the worst.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have said all hope is not lost for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, but warn the situation remains fragile, the BBC reported.

A similar gesture was expressed by Moscow when Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN that Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to hold talks on security guarantees. “Ukraine is only part of the problem, it’s part of the bigger problem of security guarantees for Russia and of course President Putin is ready to negotiate,” he said.

Analysts believe Russia is well on its way to building the military architecture it will need for a meaningful intervention in Ukraine. This development is noted even though it has not been entirely clear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to launch an attack. Moscow still insists it has no such plans.

Alongside around 130,000 troops stationed around Ukraine, Moscow also contributed its tanks, air power, artillery and ammunition. US officials have estimated that Putin has already mustered 70% of the forces needed for a full-scale invasion of his anxious neighbor.

Russian troops in Belarus. (via Radio Free Europe)

Interestingly, the troops placed on the Ukrainian border also include about 100 Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs). BTGs are combat formations of 600 to 1,000 troops that have their own artillery, air defense and logistics. Compared to the 100 BTGs currently deployed, the 2014 conflict had no more than a dozen BTGs. In the same year, Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine.

In addition, Russia has positioned 10 of its total 11 combined arms armies near Ukraine. These are high-level formations that usually contain multiple divisions. It has redeployed its Su-35s from its Far Eastern regions to Belarus. It also stationed a MiG-31K “Foxhound” fighter jet armed with a Kinzhal hypersonic land attack missile in Kaliningrad, along the Baltic coast.

Ukraine Surrounded On Three Sides

Ukraine is effectively surrounded on three sides due to a large Russian military exercise taking place in Belarus. The two countries’ joint military drills near the Belarusian border with Ukraine are part of 10-day drills. West viewed this as an additional element to the threat of invasion.

It is estimated that 30,000 Russian soldiers, alongside almost all of the Belarusian armed forces, are taking part in the exercises. Much of the equipment needed for the exercises was transported thousands of kilometers across Russia. The country’s defense ministry said one of its S-400 missile defense systems was also activated in Belarus, quite close to the Ukrainian border.

Map Russia-Ukraine
ViaTwitter

The Defense Ministry noted that Russia will conduct exercises in January and February. These will include over 140 warships and support vessels and will see the participation of 10,000 people. Russia is also preparing for missile tests in the Black Sea – a move that Ukraine says will make navigation in the Sea of ​​Azov and Black Sea impossible.

Warships from the Baltic and Northern Fleets have already been seen heading towards the Black Sea. Important ships of the Pacific Fleet are also heading for the Mediterranean.

In response, Ukraine said it would conduct its own exercises for 10 days. The commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, told the media that around 10,000 soldiers were involved in the Ukrainian drills. “We specifically moved the formation of the armed forces to the most dangerous lines of possible enemy attack,” he noted.

MiG-31K armed with a Kinzhal hypersonic missile
Russia has deployed a MiG-31K armed with a Kinzhal hypersonic missile to Kaliningrad along the Baltic coast.

Ukraine’s defense minister said the drills would include Javelin anti-tank missiles that were recently supplied to Kiev by the United States. Javelin was billed as the world’s first shoulder-mounted anti-armour system capable of automatically guiding itself to the target after launch.

The Ukrainian drills will also include Britain’s Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons (NLAW), which could destroy some tanks with a single hit.

Western support

Moreover, Western nations have mobilized arms in Europe to support Ukraine. US Air Force F-15C and F-15D Eagle fighter jets arrived at Łask Air Base in Poland last week. The fighter jets were sent to participate in a mission intended to “strengthen NATO’s collective defense posture”, while supporting the permanent Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission.

Interestingly, the F-15s that landed in Poland were equipped with AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM).

American F-15 fighter plane
An American F-15 fighter jet at Lask Air Base in Poland. (Poland MOD photo)

In the current context, some have suggested that these forward deployed forces could participate in such an operation. Otherwise, it could also serve as a distraction.

The eight F-15C/Ds will work side-by-side with Polish and Danish F-16s already flying from Šiauliai Air Base in neighboring Lithuania.

“The additional fighters will bolster Allied preparedness and deterrence and defense as Russia continues its military build-up in and around Ukraine,” an Allied Air Command statement said. “The aircraft plans to work with other allies throughout the region practicing air-to-air and air-to-ground training maneuvers in addition to supporting the Enhanced Air Policing (eAP) mission.”

The USAF deployed B-52H nuclear-capable bombers from North Dakota to the United Kingdom. Bombers can engage targets over a large swath of Russia with nuclear warheads without straying far from British airspace.

Earlier this month, the massive C-17 Globemaster III transport planes left the United States for Ukraine.

It looks like the trend for larger military deployments won’t stop any time soon, despite diplomatic talks to break the impasse.



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