East Is Forward: The Russian Threat


This Christmas season is going to be a fitful one for residents in Eastern Europe. The conflict in the Ukraine shows no signs of ending soon. NATO fighters continue to encounter Russian aircraft dangerously close to NATO airspace. Neither Sweden nor Finland have been immune to encounters with units of the Russian military either. The submarine incident is well known and just last week a Russian fighter plane narrowly missed colliding with a Swedish commercial aircraft. The economic situation in Russia has pushed the simmering region farther into the limelight. Now, over the last two days it has come out that Russian forces recently conducted military exercises in Kaliningrad between 5 and 10 December. Every one of these factors have served to amplify the military power that Russia possesses, as well as the potential threat it poses to Eastern Europe should hostilities ever break out. Hostilities are highly improbable right now and not likely to break out. In the future, however, anything is possible. Eroding economic conditions have been the direct or indirect cause of most of the wars over the past 100 years. The Great Depression was the catalyst that brought the Nazis and Hitler to power in Germany and subsequently led to the Second World War. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 is an excellent contemporary example.

The Russian Military Threat

Russia’s armed forces are in the midst of sweeping reforms and upgrades. In actuality, the services have been in the midst of one type of reform or another since the early years of the 21st Century. The latest series of changes were geared towards the Russian Army. The purpose of the reform was to change the army from a traditional mobilized type of ground force to a permanent combat readiness force. “New Look Army” began in 2008 and by 2011 had been branded a success. The traditionally separate naval fleets and military districts have been consolidated into four Joint Strategic Commands (OSK) similar to the unified command structure that United States and other NATO nations employ. The division structure is being replaced by a brigade structure. Divisions were broken down and reorganized into separate brigades. In 2013 a limited number of brigades were returned to division status.

The Russian navy and air force, like the ground forces, are going through upgrades and changes in their organizational structures and operational responsibilities. Vladimir Putin, in 2012, announced plans to build 50 ships and 25 submarines by the beginning of the next decade. The Russian air force is receiving small numbers of new aircraft and a number of new designs,  namely the T-50, are under development.

Russia has grandiose plans for its armed forces. The question that looms over Moscow’s head is whether or not the new economic realities will have an effect on the military rebuild. Putin claims that the economic drawdowns are not going to be an issue for the military, however, that could change rather rapidly.


Russia has a wide amount of military hardware pointed west towards Eastern Europe. Most of it is the property of military units that belong to the Western Military District. The WMD essentially owns every brigade, air regiment and warship from the western borders to the Nenets Autonomous District. 250-300,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen serve in the WMD. For operations against the Baltic States, Poland or other potential threats to the west, as well as the Ukraine, Moscow will call on the WMD to provide the forces. Listed below is a fairly recent order of battle for the Western Military District.

Western Military District

Ground Forces


6th Combined Services Army (St-Petersburg)

25th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade (Vladimirskiy Lager)

138th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade (Kamenka)

9th Artillery Brigade (Luga)

26th Missile Brigade (Luga)

5th AA Missile Brigade (Nenimyaki)

95th Command Brigade (Chernaya Rechka)

51st Independent Supply Brigade (Krasnoye Selo)

20th Guard Combined Services Army (Mulino, Nizhniy Novgorod Region)

2nd Motor Rifle Brigade (Kalinets)

4th Tank Division (Naro-Fominsk)

6th Independent Tank Brigade (Mulino)

9th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade (Nizhniy Novgorod)

448th Missile Brigade

288th Artillery Brigade (Mulino)

9th Command Brigade (Mulino)

69th Independent Supply Brigade (Tsentralnyy)

Independent units

27th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade (Vidnoye)

112th Missile Brigade (Shuya)

79th Rocket Artillery Brigade (Tver)

29th Independent Railway Brigade (Bryansk)

38th Independent Railway Brigade (Yaroslavl)

45th Independent Engineering Brigade (Nakhabino)

Independent Troops Contingent in the Dniester Region

Air Forces


15th Army Aviation Brigade (Ostrov)

378th Army Aviation Airbase (Vyazma)

549th Army Aviation Airbase (Levashovo)

800th Airbase (Chkalovskiy)

922nd Army Aviation Airbase (Pushkin)

105th Combined Aviation Division

455th Combined Air Regiment (Voronezh)

14th Fighter Air Regiment (Kursk)

98th Combined Air Regiment (Monchegorsk)

159th Fighter Air Regiment (Besovets)

790th Air Regiment (Khotilovo)

Naval Forces

Northern Fleet Submarine Command

7th Submarine Division

11th Submarine Division

24th Submarine Division

31st Submarine Division

Northern Fleet Ships 10 1st rank ships:

  • 1 aircraft carrier
  • 3 missile cruisers
  • 1 destroyer
  • 5 large anti-submarine ships

32 submarines:

  • 6 Project 667BDRM SSBN
  • 1 Project 941U SSBN
  • 1 Project 955 SSBN
  • 3 Project 949A SSGN
  • 6 Project 971 SSN
  • 4 Project 945/945A SSN
  • 4 Project 671RTMK SSN
  • 6 Project 877 diesel-electric submarines
  • 1 Project 677 diesel-electric submarine



128th Surface Ship Brigade

71st Amphibious Assault Landing Ship Brigade


Baltic Naval Base, which includes:

  • 64th Area Patrol Ship Brigade
  • 36th Missile Boat Brigade
  • 25th Coastal Missile Regiment
  • The 115th Battalion Division (i.e. detachment) of Ships Under Construction and Undergoing The Baltic Fleet’s Naval Aviation Group


105th Area Patrol Ships Brigade

13th Brigade of Ships and Submarines Under Construction and Undergoing Repairs

Baltic Fleet Ships

  • 2 destroyers
  • 2 frigates
  • 3 corvettes
  • 2 Project 877 diesel-electric submarines

The Baltic Fleet’s forces in Kaliningrad Region include a large group of ground troops:

  • 336th Marines Brigade
  • 79th Independent Motorised Rifle Brigade
  • 7th Independent Motorised Rifle Regiment
  • 244th Artillery Brigade
  • 152nd Missile Brigade
  • 22nd Independent SAM Regiment

Source: Andrey Frolov, Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) , 2014