May 5, 2024

Institute for the Study of War:  Russia redeploys an airborne battalion to Kursk region, menacing Northeastern Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

The Russian military reportedly redeployed a battalion of the 76th Airborne (VDV) Division to Kursk Oblast as part of a larger ongoing Russian effort to gather an operationally significant force for a possible future Russian offensive operation against northeastern Ukraine and Kharkiv City. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated on May 5 that the Russian military has gathered roughly 50,000 personnel in Belgorod, Kursk, and Bryansk oblasts as part of its Northern Grouping of Forces. Mashovets stated that the Russian military has concentrated over 31,000 troops in Belgorod Oblast; over 10,000 troops in Kursk Oblast; and over 8,000 troops in Bryansk Oblast. Mashovets noted that an unspecified VDV battalion is part of the Russian grouping in Kursk Oblast, and a Russian milblogger, who has an avowed bias against the VDV and “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky, claimed on May 5 that the Russian 104th VDV Regiment’s (76th VDV Division) 3rd VDV battalion is currently in Kursk Oblast. Elements of the 104th Regiment were previously operating in Zaporizhia Oblast as of February and March 2024, suggesting that elements of the 104th Regiment recently redeployed from southern Ukraine to Russia’s border with northeastern Ukraine. ISW recently observed unconfirmed reports that the Russian military is redeploying elements of the 76th and 7th VDV divisions from Zaporizhia Oblast to various new directions, including eastern Ukraine, but has not observed visual confirmation that elements of the 104th VDV Regiment are operating in Kursk Oblast.

US officials continue to signal their support for new Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in 2025, although ISW continues to assess that Ukraine should contest the theater-wide initiative as soon as possible because ceding the theater-wide initiative to Russia for the entirety of 2024 will present Russia with several benefits. The Financial Times (FT) reported on May 5 that US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that Ukraine will look to conduct a counteroffensive operation to recapture Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory in 2025 after using US military assistance to blunt further Russian advances in 2024. Sullivan stated that he expects Russian forces to continue making marginal advances for an unspecified time and noted that US military assistance will not “instantly flip the switch” on the battlefield situation in Ukraine. Sullivan stated that US military assistance will empower Ukrainian forces to “hold the line” and withstand Russian assaults throughout the rest of 2024. ISW continues to assess that it will likely take several additional weeks for Western weapons and ammunition to arrive to frontline Ukrainian units and begin to have tangible battlefield impacts and that the arrival of US military aid to Ukraine will likely allow Ukrainian forces to stabilize the frontline and seize the initiative.

Key Takeaways

  • The Russian military reportedly redeployed a battalion of the 76th Airborne (VDV) Division to Kursk Oblast as part of a larger ongoing Russian effort to gather an operationally significant force for a possible future Russian offensive operation against northeastern Ukraine and Kharkiv City.
  • The Russian military is reportedly preparing and forming the Northern Grouping of Forces from elements of the Leningrad Military District (LMD) to primarily operate in the Belgorod-Kharkiv operational direction.
  • US officials continue to signal their support for new Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in 2025, although ISW continues to assess that Ukraine should contest the theater-wide initiative as soon as possible because ceding the theater-wide initiative to Russia for the entirety of 2024 will present Russia with several benefits.
  • European intelligence agencies reportedly warned their governments that Russia is planning to conduct “violent acts of sabotage” across Europe as part of a “more aggressive and concerted effort” against the West.
  • The Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP) seized on the Orthodox Easter holiday on May 5 to further its efforts to garner domestic support for the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces recently advanced near Kupyansk and Robotyne. 
  • Bureaucratic issues continue to constrain frontline Russian units’ ability to conduct strikes on Ukrainian targets.

For Full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-5-2024

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