Russia’s Commitment to Fend off Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Exposes Vulnerabilities Across Eurasia, Experts Warn
Russia has displayed its willingness to accept risks and commit forces from across its territory to counter Ukraine’s advances, according to the British Ministry of Defense and other experts. This level of commitment demonstrates the near-total dedication of Russia’s military to the war in Ukraine, with the British Minister of Defense, Ben Wallace, stating that an estimated 97% of the Russian army is now deployed in Ukraine, experiencing attrition levels comparable to the First World War.
In preparation for the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russia relocated around two-thirds of its combat forces from its bases in the Far East, approximately 6,200 miles away, to central and western Russia, as well as southern Belarus. Elite Russian units and troops from vital outposts along Russia’s long border were among the forces committed to the fight. The deployment of these forces has left Russia vulnerable in other regions, prompting concerns from experts.
The impact of the war on Russia’s national strategy is evident in its acceptance of risks across Eurasia. The British Ministry of Defense noted that units from across Russia are now bearing the brunt of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which began in early June. The 58th Combined Arms Army, typically assigned to the volatile Caucasus region, now finds itself defending entrenched lines in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, north of Crimea. Similarly, the 5th Combined Arms Army and naval infantry units that are historically deployed 4,300 miles away are now manning positions around Velyka Novosilka, a front-line town in Donetsk Oblast. Additionally, airborne regiments, usually stationed in western Russia, are occupying Russian defenses around Bakhmut.
The commitment of forces from various regions showcases the dislocation of Russia’s established national strategy, according to the British Ministry of Defense. The scramble to find troops and equipment for the war has depleted Russia’s domestic stockpiles and diminished its ability to respond to crises and wield influence. Dara Massicot, an expert on the Russian military at the Rand Corporation, emphasized that Russia has made itself vulnerable on a global scale due to these actions.
Despite significant troop losses, Russia has called up hundreds of thousands of reservists and conscripts, resulting in a larger ground force than before the war. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the head of US European Command, highlighted in April that Russia still possesses hundreds of fighter aircraft, dozens of surface warships, and active submarines. However, Russia has likely lost nearly 50% of the combat effectiveness of its army for minimal gain, according to Admiral Tony Radakin, the chief of the British defense staff. Russian forces have fired over 10 million artillery shells and lost over 2,000 tanks, while the country’s industrial capacity can only replace a fraction of those amounts annually.
Though Russia has not committed most of its airpower to Ukraine, it has displayed a substantial level of commitment to the invasion. Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, argued that Russia’s deployments from other regions contradict their claims of concern about NATO aggression. This implies that Russian leaders are not genuinely worried about escalation on their flank with NATO, as their actions demonstrate a lack of protest or resistance to potential entanglements. Bronk suggests that while Russian leaders may fear an accidental war with NATO and a shift in the balance of power, their current actions indicate a focus on the war in Ukraine rather than concerns about direct NATO involvement.
Ultimately, Russia’s commitment to the fight in Ukraine exposes vulnerabilities elsewhere, highlighting the impact of the war on its national strategy. As Russia faces attrition and depletion of resources, it becomes increasingly vulnerable on a global scale, leaving doubts about its ability to respond effectively to crises or maintain its influence.