The level of military threat from Russia remains high. Additional forces have arrived, bringing the total size of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border up to 103,200 people. “The level of the military threat near Ukraine’s borders has increased, but the critical line has not been crossed yet. We do not observe the formation of offensive groups at the moment,” Commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant General Serhiy Nayev said on the air of TV program “Freedom of Speech by Savik Shuster” on April 16. According to him, the Armed Forces are ready for any actions of the enemy, including a worst-case scenario. Nayev confirmed that Russia was currently building up forces around Ukraine. From 2015-16 to March, there were 28 battalion tactical groups around Ukraine, which together with the Russian Armed Forces in the occupied Crimea and in the East totaled 88,900 people. At present, additional battalion tactical groups arrived, and there are already 47 groups. The total personnel size reached 103,200 people. “We expect the arrival of about 9-10 battalion tactical groups more and the total size will reach 110,000 Russian troops… In this situation, we are taking measures to curb the growth of military escalation around the state border of Ukraine. Together with the National Security and Defense Council, we develop a single plan to stabilize the situation,” he said. As reported, Russia has lately been building up troops near Ukraine’s state border in the north, east and south, as well as in the temporarily occupied Crimea. In addition, the number of ceasefire violations committed by the Russian armed formations in eastern Ukraine has increased. Ukrainian troops suffer casualties. At the same time, Russia carries out a propaganda campaign to justify aggression against Ukraine. Air defenses ring Russia’s Western periphery. S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missiles cover half of Poland and overlap in concentric circles over the Baltic States — requiring NATO to neutralize these sites during a conflict before its aircraft could provide cover for Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The first of 3,500 American troops began rolling into Poland for a nine-month-long mission starting on Jan. 8, 2017. It was an unprecedented length of time for a U.S. armored unit to stay in Eastern Europe. The U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division were heading to Zagan and Pomorskie, with the unit’s 87 M-1 Abrams tanks following on trains. It’s the beginning of a bulked-up and continuous NATO troop rotation to counter a resurgent Russia. In addition to the tanks, the unit is bringing with it 18 self-propelled Paladin howitzers, hundreds of Humvees, and 144 Bradley fighting vehicles which will spread out across Eastern Europe. At the time, there hadn’t been a U.S. military deployment in Europe this big since the Cold War. But as the troops moved beyond Zagan, they fell under the shadow of Russia’s land-based strike missiles in Kaliningrad, the Connecticut-sized enclave squeezed between Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic Sea. Russia has invested heavily in building up its military presence there in recent years. In the event of a military conflict over the Baltic States, Russian missiles in Kaliningrad could target NATO troops heading from Poland. That could slow reinforcements were Russia to invade Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The Baltics would need those NATO reinforcements to have a chance, slim as it would be, to stop a vastly more numerous Russian army. Indeed, Russia’s army is smaller than it once was, but it is “more than adequate … to overwhelm whatever defense the Baltic armies might be able to present,” a RAND Corporation study noted in 2016. Kaliningrad’s missiles pose a serious complication to NATO. The enclave is practically loaded with them. For a visual illustration, here’s an interactive map — larger version here — showing these missile “bubbles” indicating the range of various weapons in Europe. The map was produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
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