August 27, 2022

Institute for the Study of War: Russia’s volunteer 3rd Army Corps: ill-trained, ill-disciplined, physically unfit and unlikely to generate effective combat power

Institute for the Study of War

The volunteer battalions constituting Russia’s 3rd Army Corps will likely deploy to Ukraine in ad hoc combined arms units to renew offensive operations, possibly on the Donetsk City axis and the Southern Axis. The volunteer battalions Russia has been forming have been divided into two general groups, as ISW has previously reported. Some battalions are deploying to the front lines as soon as they have completed their abbreviated initial training. Others have been coalescing into a new 3rd Army Corps.[1] An analysis by Janes Intelligence Group of new images from combat training for elements of the 3rd Army Corps at the Mulino Training Ground in Nizhny Novogorod found 3rd Army Corps troops training with more modern Russian equipment such as BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, T-80BVM and T-90M tanks, and the latest AK-12 assault rifle variants.[2] The other Russian volunteer battalions that have fought in Ukraine, such as the North Ossetian “Alania” Battalion, have not entered combat with older equipment. The fact that the 3rd Army Corps units are training on better gear and apparently being held back to deploy in more coherent combined arms groups suggests that the Russian military intends to commit them to offensive operations and hopes to regain momentum somewhere along the front line. Elements of the 3rd Army Corps are reportedly already deploying from Nizhny Novgorod closer towards Russia’s border with Ukraine. The Georgia-based Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) observed T-80BV and T-90M tanks that were in Mulino likely of the 3rd Army Corps deploy to Rostov Oblast on August 27.[3] If this report is correct, it could suggest that the Russian military intends to commit the 3rd Army Corps to reinforce offensive operations near Donetsk City, where drives around Mariinka, Pisky, and Avdiivka have been stalling after making some gains. Elements of the 3rd Army Corps may also deploy to the Southern Axis. A Russian Local media outlet reported that the Khabarovsk Krai “Baron Korf” signals battalion will support the deployment of Russian field posts in Kherson Oblast and provide command and control to the new Russian 3rd Army Corps, indicating the Kremlin will likely deploy 3rd Army Corps elements to Kherson and Ukraine’s south.[4]3rd Army Corps elements are unlikely to generate effective combat power, however. Better equipment does not necessarily make more effective forces when the personnel are not well-trained or disciplined, as many members of the 3rd Army Corps’ volunteer units are not. Previous military experience is not required for many of 3rd Army Corps’ volunteer elements.[5] Images of the 3rd Army Corp elements have shown the volunteers to be physically unfit and old.[6] Analysts have also noted that Russia’s lack of experienced non-commissioned officers (NCOs) will hurt the 3rd Army Corps effectiveness.[7] ISW has previously commented on reports of indiscipline among the personnel of the 3rd Army Corps as well.[8]

Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command stated that a 10-person Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group attempted assault operations in Kherson Oblast on August 27, suggesting that Russian offensive capabilities in Kherson Oblast have degraded even further. [9] A 10-person group amounts to a squad, which is too small to act effectively as a maneuver unit. If the Southern Operational Command correctly reported the size and mission of this unit, it would indicate that Russian ground forces in Ukraine have degraded to the point that they are attempting to conduct offensive operations and echelons too low to make meaningful gains. ISW has no independent confirmation of the current size of Russian assault echelons attempting ground attacks in Ukraine, but this report is consistent with the Ukrainian campaign to degrade Russian logistics capabilities in western Kherson Oblast and ISW’s prior assessments of diminished Russian military morale in Ukraine.[10]

Key Takeaways

  • Volunteer battalions that comprise Russia’s 3rd Army Corps are likely being prepared to attempt offensive combined arms operations but will likely lack sufficient combat power to make a material difference on the battlefield.
  • Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command stated that a 10-person Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group attempted assault operations in Kherson Oblast, indicating that Russian offensive capabilities in Kherson Oblast have degraded further. 
  • Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack north of Kharkiv City.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks southwest of Izyum, northeast of Siversk, northeast and south of Bakhmut, and west and southwest of Donetsk City.
  • Ukrainian forces targeted Russian airborne command-and-control elements in western Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian and Ukrainian sources traded accusations of shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
  • Russian military leadership may be shifting to a new phase of mobilization in central Russia and have likely exhausted pools of potential recruits in more peripheral and disenfranchised regions.
  • Russian authorities are intensifying law enforcement operations in occupied areas.
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