Russian tanks and forces put eastern Ukraine on high alert.
Since the end of March, the Kremlin has sent thousands of soldiers and heavy artillery to the Donbas region, the unstable region where the 2014 war broke out, which left more than 14,000 dead and is far from over.
But the military disintegration that triggered the warnings of the Western military alliance of NATO (NATO) is not limited to this region: Moscow has also reinforced its regiments in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Among the large group of more than 42,000 soldiers that were sent to the region in less than three weeks, it is one of the most legendary combat battalions.
It is the 56th Air Assault Brigade, which was based in the Volgograd region, approximately 1,500 kilometers away.
However, in late March, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that his country was planning to convert the brigade into an airborne attack regiment and that it would be sent to Feodosia, on the Ukrainian peninsula.
This is not the first time that Russia has sent troops into the territories it annexed. However, the context in which the separation of one of the battalions that the state used in recent wars took place raised concerns in both Ukraine and the international community.
The arrival of the airborne battalion to the Crimea was the hero of many videos and photos posted on social media, in which large numbers of heavy weapons and tanks were seen crossing the bridge that Putin built between Russian territory and the Crimean peninsula.
But what is known about this brigade and why did his arrival in the peninsula arouse concern about the Russian military detachment?
The largest shipment
According to experts and journalists from the BBC’s Russian and Ukrainian services, the transfer of the battalion to Fedosia should be viewed in a broader context: the mobilization of more than 80,000 Russian soldiers on the outskirts of Ukraine in the past three weeks.
Ukrainian intelligence sources told the BBC that with the deployment of the 56th Airborne Brigade, additional Russian forces are adding up to 16 tactical battalions, which will consist of 14,000 soldiers.
In total, according to the Ukrainian presidency, Russia now has about 41,000 soldiers on the eastern border, as well as 42,000 in the Crimea.
Anders Oslund, a researcher at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based research entity, told BBC News Mondo (BBC Spanish Service): “This is probably the largest military mobilization that Ukraine has seen in its vicinity since 2015.”
Russia’s intentions to deploy troops are unclear, but it is starting to cause concern in the West.
A few days ago, a high-ranking Russian official confirmed that his country could intervene to defend people of Russian descent in eastern Ukraine, and said that the escalation of the conflict could be “the beginning of the end for Ukraine.”
Dmitry Kozak compared the situation of Russian separatists to that of Srebrenica, the city in Bosnia and Herzegovina where 8,000 Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.
“If there is, as our president says, Srebrenica, then maybe we should go and defend it,” the official said.
After reactions from the US State Department, President Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin on Tuesday – the second time since he took office – to “de-escalate tensions” after the Russian military entrenchment.
“President Biden stressed the firm commitment of the United States to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said in a statement.
The NATO committee also met in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the situation in the Donbas and Crimea, and demanded that Russia stop sending troops.
The Secretary-General of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, also stressed that the members of the organization would never recognize the “illegal and illegal” annexation of Crimea, and condemned the military reinforcements of the peninsula in the past few weeks.
According to the BBC Ukraine service correspondent, Vyacheslav Shramovich, one of the unresolved questions is the message Russia wants to send as new forces are deployed on the borders with Ukraine and the peninsula.
Above all, the functions that could be performed by a military body such as the Crimean 56th Brigade.
According to the data of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the 56th Brigade was formed in 1946 from two infantry regiments, one of which had previously fought in Hungary as part of the Ukrainian front.
In the 1980s, he was a battalion of Soviet Russia in the Afghanistan War and then in the two Chechen wars (the first in 1994 and then in 1999).
“The units of this brigade were the ones that covered the border with Georgia in Chechnya,” explains Shramovich.
But his actions there were not limited to border policing.
The brigade also advanced the forces on land, which led to the application of the so-called “Grozny doctrine”, which consists in destroying the Chechen capital by bombing to facilitate the entry of troops and heavy artillery.
After the Second Chechen War, the battalion was stationed in the city of Kamyshin, Volgograd Region.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the brigade consists of:
- Two air attack battalions
- Airborne battalion
- Tank battalion
- Reconnaissance battalion
- Company snipers
- Artillery battalion
- Anti-tank battery
- Air defense battery
According to the Ukrainian research group InformNapalm, the fighters of the 56th Brigade were part of the tactical groups of the Russian battalion that operated in the Donbas in 2014 and among those concentrated near the eastern border.
Russia denied the battalion’s participation in the war.
Truling era At a high level
Mykola Beliskov, senior advisor at the National Institute for Strategic Studies of Ukraine, says one of the characteristics of this battalion is its high-level training and dispatch to regions where Russia is interested in starting a conflict.
“This is a battalion that is actively participating in high-level training. The entire Russian army is receiving high-level training, but in this case they go further,” he told the Ukrainian BBC.
“They are preparing the soldiers of the brigade and their commanders to operate deep into the enemy’s full defenses, seize bridges, and enter the flank or rear.”
However, the dispatch to Crimea surprised the analyst, even though he says it agrees with Moscow’s earlier military plans.
“The Russians have officially announced that they are preparing a scenario to defend the entire Black Sea coast. In other words, they expect to increase their forces in the Crimea and in the Krasnodar Territory (southwestern Russia).”
He believes this could “pave the way for additional plans” in the long term.
However, the expert stresses that it is still too early to determine whether the transfer of the 56th Brigade in the Crimea can be considered the last stage in preparing the Russian army to take decisive action.
“Until now, we cannot say that everything we see means preparedness for large-scale aggression. Although the foundations may be laid for this, it is still too early to talk about it,” he says.
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