ISW analyzes Shoigu's remarks about new formations in Russian army

ISW analyzes Shoigu's remarks about new formations in Russian army

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has analyzed remarks that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made during the Russian Defense Ministry's Collegium on December 19 regarding the Russian army's current strength.

ISW said this in its Russian offensive campaign assessment, Ukrinform reports.

Shoigu stated that the Russian MoD will prioritize continuing the war in Ukraine and training newly formed units and formations in 2024, while also reiterating threats against Finland and the wider NATO alliance.

"Shoigu stated that the Russian military is undergoing work to expand its combat power to 1.32 million personnel from 1.15 million in accordance with Putin's December 1 decree. ISW previously assessed that this decree was likely a formal recognition of the Russian military's current end strength and not an order to immediately increase the number of Russian military personnel, and Shoigu appears to be merely reamplifying Putin's original statement as opposed to outlining major changes in Russian end strength," the report said.

According to ISW analysts, Shoigu stated that the Russian military formed two fully-equipped armies (likely in reference to the newly formed 18th and 25th Combined Arms Armies), a mixed aviation corps, four divisions, including 50 other units and formations of lower echelons, 18 brigades, and 28 regiments in 2023.

"Shoigu initially outlined the creation of these new formations on paper at the MoD Collegium in December of 2022, the establishment of several of which ISW has independently confirmed. It is highly unlikely that any of these new formations are 'fully equipped' or operating at their doctrinal end strengths at this time, however," ISW analysts said.

Shoigu reiterated that the Russian military is forming the Leningrad Military District (LMD) and Moscow Military District (MMD) in connection with Finland’s accession to NATO and the upcoming accession of Sweden. He also announced that Russia will prioritize implementing operational and combat training measures to combat the "threats of further NATO expansion east" in 2024.

"Shoigu's attempt to present the creation of the LMD and MMD as a response to alleged 'NATO expansion' echoes an ongoing Russian information operation aimed at shifting responsibility for the war in Ukraine away from Russia to the West by framing Russia's actions as reactive. Finland and Sweden only applied to join NATO shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, likely fearing further Russian aggression on their borders," ISW said.

It noted that Russia's decision to reform the Western Military District (WMD) into the LMD and MMD is part of a long-term restructuring and expansion effort that aims to prepare Russia for a potential future large-scale conventional war against NATO while balancing the Russian operational requirements in Ukraine.

ISW analysts also emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly invoking the Kremlin's pre-invasion pseudo-historical rhetoric to cast himself as a modern Russian tsar and framing the invasion of Ukraine as a historically justified imperial reconquest. Putin addressed the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) Collegium on December 19 and largely reiterated boilerplate Kremlin rhetoric on the war in Ukraine by blaming NATO and the collective West for encroaching on Russia's borders and exculpated himself for issues faced by the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine by deflecting the blame towards the Russian MoD bureaucracy.

Putin baselessly claimed that people living in western Ukraine want to return to their "historical homeland," suggesting that western Ukraine could feasibly return to 17th-century conceptions of state borders and become parts of Poland, Romania, or Hungary.

"This statement suggests that Putin is selectively weaponizing facets of Eastern and Central European history as they suit his ideological line to further rhetorically strip Ukraine of its internationally recognized sovereignty," ISW said.

According to ISW analysts, Putin's MoD Collegium claims are rife with rhetorical contradictions and are dependent on tenuous historical allegories that fall apart when considered in different historical contexts.

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