The Russian army sent additional elite units to the southern front in Ukraine to bolster its strength there. The deployment of paratroopers would prevent the Ukrainian army from advancing further in the vicinity of the village of Robotyn.
The transfer of airborne troops from the VDV, which was considered one of the best units of the Russian army before the war, was reported by Ukraine and the United States, among others. Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which follows the war closely.
Units of one component of the VDV, the 76th Guards Division, were moved south from Krymina in the northern Luhansk region. According to the ISW, they should reinforce the “weak positions” on the southern front.
On Monday, Kiev announced the capture of Ropotyn, which had breached Russia’s first line of defence. With the advance and control of Melitopol, about 80 kilometers away, Ukraine could try to split the invading Russian army in two.
It is not clear how many paratroopers were directed to the southern front. There are also reports that soldiers from the southern city of Kherson have been sent to the battle area around Ropotyn. At the beginning of August, units of another VDV component, the 7th Guards Division, were already deployed in the heavy fighting around Ropotyn.
However, these soldiers were unable to prevent the fall of the village. “The Russian High Command may decide to use these new reinforcements to reinforce the next set of defensive positions south of the current Ukrainian advance,” the ISW military experts said.
The heightened Russian state of emergency now is also evident from the role the 76th Guards Division usually plays. “According to Russian military doctrine, at least on paper, the 76th Division is part of its strategic reserves. “This confirms the seriousness of the move,” said the officer, who tweets a lot about the war under the name Tatarjani.
American military expert Rob Lee, an expert on Russian defense policy, agrees with this opinion. “This shows that the Russian army in the south is under severe pressure and that Russia is now deploying its reserves and available units,” Lee, one of the most consulted military sources on the war, wrote on Twitter. “The 76th is probably the best division in Russia and is relatively well equipped.”
The movement of the paratroopers underscores how heavily Moscow relies on the airborne forces to thwart the Ukrainian counterattack. The paratroopers, equipped with heavy equipment such as tanks and armored vehicles, are fighting in Bashmoyt, among other things, to prevent Ukraine’s penetration into the Donbass. And in the bloody battle for control of the city last year, they stayed out of the fight.
VDV soldiers, recognizable by their blue berets, were highly regarded in the Russian army before the war. Their image was damaged immediately after the invasion when they failed to take Hostomel Airport near Kiev. This was supposed to allow the supply of troops to begin the assault on Kiev.
The failure of this operation and the heavy military losses among the paratroopers in the following months led to the dismissal of VDV commander Andrei Serdyukov by President Vladimir Putin. At the international level, the performance of the paratroopers was also viewed with astonishment. The VDV liked to join similar American airborne divisions, such as the famous 82nd Airborne Division.
According to the British Ministry of Defense, the VDV has lost much of its power due to military losses and prestige. “The VDV has been significantly downgraded from ‘elite’ status prior to the invasion,” the ministry said in June, based on information from the intelligence community. According to London, the commanders tried to keep units that had not been badly damaged in the war as a reserve.
But this did not come to anything. “Instead, they had to use them to maintain the front line at Pashmut,” the ministry said of the paratroopers’ deployment to this part of Donetsk. As a result, Russia now has fewer troops in reserve when the need for them is greatest.
London said: “It is likely that the Russian armed forces will be less flexible in responding to operational challenges.” Sending additional paratroopers into the Robotyne area now will only exacerbate this problem.
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