Military analysts say Russia’s ‘partial withdrawal’ has no effect on overall invasion risk to Ukraine

1 February 2022, 05:41 PM

Russia on Jan. 29 announced it was withdrawing some of its troops to their garrisons in the Western Military District after “their combat readiness had been duly checked,” according to the Ministry of Defense of Russia.

Russia’s army is composed of several districts (Western, Southern, Central and Eastern) and also the Northern United Strategic Command, which includes the Northern Fleet.

The ministry’s statement also reported that communication and engineering units, as well as radiation, chemical and biological defense units, all of which had been deployed within 200 kilometers of the Russian-Ukrainian border, were also returning to their bases. Air forces used in these supposed military exercises were also re-stationed to their home airbases.

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This withdrawal, however partial, raised hopes that perhaps Russia was on its way to de-escalate from the tense standoff it had sparked with its military buildup in late 2021.

However, a number of military experts have warned against optimism in this case, pointing out that this so-called “partial withdrawal” barely affects the overall numbers of arms and material stationed around Ukraine. On the contrary, some noted that the Russian army seems to be preparing more, not less, for confrontation.

NV has compiled some of these expert opinions below.

Kirill Mikhailov, of the independent Russian investigative network Conflict Intelligence Team, is convinced that the planned combat readiness check that recently concluded “has nothing to do with the ongoing military buildup.”

“You can keep holding your breath”, warns Mikhailov in a social media post on Jan. 29, pointing out that “there are more troops (in Russia) than just the 120,000 on Ukraine’s border.”

Mikhailov says that all these troops “regularly do things,” such as military exercises and drills, and that Russia’s Defense Ministry regularly reports planned exercises but keeps silent about troop movements to Ukraine’s border.

However, the analyst says the current situation is more difficult to assess due to the fact that part of the troops amassed on Ukraine’s border “did not come from 9,000 kilometers away but are permanently based there and regularly engage in exercises,” referring to the Far East home bases of many of the Russian forces arrayed against Ukraine.

Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert at the U.S.-based CNA think-tank, also shared his doubts about news of a “drawdown” of Russian troops.

 According to Kofman, the Russian defense ministry’s statement is not a good sign.

 “It is not a positive indicator, quite the opposite,” wrote Kofman on social media on Jan. 30.

“(The Russians) are completing scheduled checks and training exercises, getting personnel to a higher level of readiness. There is no pullback of forward deployed units.”

Kofman has urged journalists to not rely on the Russian propaganda agency Interfax’s interpretation of “a partial pullback,” and study the Western MD’s statement more carefully.

He noted that in the last few months, similar statements have been issued from Russia’s Southern MD. The statement reported “starting, then ending, then starting again checks and drills at various training stages”. Kofman says that those announcements have also not led to any significant changes in the concentration of Russian forces.

Military analyst and CEO of Polish consulting company Rochan Consulting, Konrad Muzyka, is also quite skeptical about overly optimistic interpretations of Russia’s alleged pullback news.

On Jan. 30, Muzyka tweeted that he considered the “partial withdrawal” announced by Russia’s Western MD irrelevant to the buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border.  Muzyka draws three key conclusions: the Western MD “has several things going on at the same time,” “not all battalions had been deployed near Ukraine,” and the drills could have been used to prepare Russian troops for further deployment.

Furthermore, Muzyka refers to several more examples of the Russian army’s additional deployments, which can indicate a further buildup, and not a withdrawal or drawdown.

For instance, Muzyka believes that the Russian Northern Fleet’s 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade may be headed towards Ukraine.

According to Muzyka, it is also possible that Russia’s is moving units specialized in constructing fuel pipelines, towards Ukraine. Muzyka believes that if this deployment is confirmed, fuel bases will be soon set up on Ukraine’s border. One pipeline is capable of delivering up to 1,200 tons of fuel a day, says Muzyka.

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