Russia has announced a conclusion to the military exercises underway in close proximity to the Ukraine. Units will soon begin returning to their primary installations in other parts of the country, deescalating the situation immeasurably. This move will allay fears in Ukraine, Europe and the United States of a Russian military operation in eastern Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the announcement earlier today, stating that the goals of the exercise have been met and Russian troops “demonstrated the ability to ensure reliable defense of the country.”
Yet in true Russian fashion, this move comes with some significant caveats attached.
A large number of Russian units will be departing the areas near the Ukrainian border, true. However, many of these units are leaving their heavy equipment behind. Heavy equipment in military terms translates to tanks, self-propelled artillery, infantry fighting vehicles, etc. With a sizable amount of heavy equipment remaining, it gives Russian troops the ability to rapidly deploy from other parts of the country and marry up to the equipment of their parent units. Similar to what the United States Army established with REFORGER and POMCUS sites in the Cold War. A very effective move on Russia’s part, and one that does not fully remove the threat facing Ukraine from the east and south.
There has been no information released about the Black Sea and whether the naval exercises there will also be coming to an end.
Naturally, the initial reaction from Ukraine and the West has been to hail the move as an indication of Vladimir Putin backing down in the face of a unified West. However, in the coming days and weeks this perception is likely to wear away. Vladimir Putin is a disingenuous, calculating individual. There’s generally a purpose behind every one of his major decisions. It is safe to assume there is one behind this one. As time goes on, it will become clear what the purpose is.