Author: David Batashvili, Research Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation

Rondeli Russian Military Digest is a weekly brief that reports key activities by and developments within the armed forces of the Russian Federation. Researchers, civil servants and everyone else interested in what is going on in the military of one of the most dangerous nations on the planet – tune in and enjoy.

You can see all issues of Rondeli Russian Military Digest at this page. For your convenience, we have added the Digest Content Search that helps users find the digest’s issues containing information they need using key words and phrases.

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A note to readers: The present issue covers six weeks. The next issue will cover the two weeks after 9 May.


Geostrategic Activities

Starting from the later part of March 2021, Russia mobilized large military forces on the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea. These new forces joined the Russian units that are permanently based in those areas. The additional forces included land, naval and air assets from the Western Military District, the Southern Military District, the Central Military District, the Russian Airborne Troops and the Caspian FlotillaLanding ships from the Baltic Fleet and the Northern Fleet joined the Black Sea Fleet’s vessels. Official Russian cover story for these troop movements included variousbattle readiness checks and exercises including a major one in Crimea. While Russians announced the end of these measures in late April, as of 9 May 2021, suspicions remained that at least some of the forces gathered in the direction of Ukraine had not been actually transferred back to their bases.

War in Ukraine – Two Ukrainian servicemen were killed and three were wounded by the Russian hybrid forces on the Donbas frontline during the week of 3-9 May 2021. One was killed and eight were wounded during the week of 26 April-2 May. Three were killed and five were wounded in the week of 12-18 April; six killed and three wounded in the week of 5-11 April; one killed and four wounded in the week of 29 March-4 April.

War in Syria – Russian air force conducted air strikes in the Syrian rebel-controlled Idlib region on 29 March and 6-7 April 2021.

Two outposts of the 102nd Military Base (a mechanized brigade) (in Gyumri, Republic of Armenia) have been established in the southern part of Armenia (Syunik region). The move came as a consequence of Armenia’s perception of insecurity in the face of Azerbaijan and Turkey following the 2nd Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Russia in Africa – Russia’s Wagner mercenaries that support government forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been accused of war crimes “including mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture during interrogations.”

Presence of Russian military officers has been noted in a military unit in Venezuela’s Sucre state.

On 6 May 2021, a Russian MiG-31 fighter intercepted a U.S. plane over the Chukchi Sea. American planes were intercepted by Russian MiG-31 fighters in the northern Pacific Ocean on 1016 and 23 April. Over the Barents Sea, Russian fighters of this same type intercepted a plane from Norway on 7 April, and Norwegian and U.S. aircraft – on 19 April.

NATO aircraft reportedly scrambled to intercept Russian planes ten times on 29 March 2021. The incidents that day took place over the Norwegian Sea, the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. Fighters from BritainNorwayBelgiumTurkeyRomaniaBulgaria and Italy (operating from Lithuania) were engaged. From the Russian side, Tu-160 heavy strategic bombers, Tu-142 and Il-38 maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft and Su-27 fighters were among the known types of planes participating in the incidents. NATO planes also intercepted Russian ones over the Baltic Sea “several times” on 20 April. One of these groups of Russian aircraft was a pair of Tu-160 bombers with Su-35S and Su-27 fighters intercepted by planes from GermanyDenmark and Finland. Tu-142 planes were intercepted by U.S. fighters over the Pacific Ocean on 23 April.

Colombia’s fighters intercepted a Russian Il-96-400VPU plane, reportedly assigned to the FSB agency, over their country’s air space on 19 April 2021. According to the Colombian information, the plane had deviated from its assigned flight path after which the fighters forced it to leave Colombia’s air space.

The path of the intercepted FSB aircraft

Two groups of the Pacific Fleet warships left Vladivostok on 1 May 2021 for long-range expeditions in the Indo-Pacific region. The first one includes the Pacific Fleet’s flagship, Slava / Project 1164 Atlant class guided missile cruiser Varyag and Udaloy I / Project 1155 Fregat class anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov. The second group includes Steregushchiy / Project 20380 class corvettes Gromkiy and Sovershennyy.

The Black Sea Fleet’s Yury Ivanov / Project 18280 class intelligence collection ship Ivan Khurs and the Baltic Fleet’s Vishnya / Meridian / Project 864 class intelligence collection ship Vasiliy Tatischev visited Port Sudan, respectively, in the first half and in the end of April 2021.

Ivan Khurs

The Baltic Fleet’s Steregushchiy / Project 20380 class corvette Boikiy and Ropucha II / Project 775.2 class landing ship Minsk that had been reported moving to the Mediterranean Sea in late March 2021, instead turned back and returned to the Baltic Sea on 3 April.

The Baltic Fleet’s Steregushchiy / Project 20380 class corvette Stoikiy, on a long-range expedition since 16 December 2020, crossed back into the Mediterranean from the Indian Ocean basin through the Suez Canal on 31 March, and returned from the expedition to its base in Baltiysk on 29 April 2021.

The Black Sea Fleet’s Project 22160 class large patrol ship Dmitry Rogachev, on a long-range expedition since January 2021, returned to the Black Sea on 3 April 2021 after operating in the Indian Ocean basin.


Structural Changes

The 20th Mechanized Brigade (Volgograd) of the 8th Army (HQ in Novocherkassk, Rostov Oblast) will be expanded into the 20th Mechanized Division. Its units will be stationed in Volgograd and Kamyshin (Volgograd Oblast). The base in Kamyshin is being vacated for this purpose by the 56th Air Assault Brigade that is in the process of transfer to occupied Crimea as we reported in the previous issue of this digest. The new division will belong to the 8th Army.

New details have emerged regarding the 18th Mechanized Division newly established in Kaliningrad Oblast. The division now includes the 275th Mechanized Regiment and the 280th Mechanized Regiment. Russian sources suggest that the two regiments were created on the basis of the former 79th Mechanized Brigade (Gusev). Other units included in the 18th Division reportedly are the 11th Tank Regiment (Gusev) and the 22nd Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Kaliningrad).

A new mobile company has been established within the 1st Army Corps (Donetsk, occupied part of Donbas, Ukraine).


Rearmament and Modernization

Project 885M Yasen-M class nuclear-powered submarine Kazan joined the Russian navy and its Northern Fleet on 7 May 2021.

Special Forces and reconnaissance units of the 5th Army (Ussuriysk, Primorsky Krai) received Typhoon armored vehicles.

The tank battalion of the 64th Mechanized Brigade (Knyaze-Volkonskoye, Khabarovsk Krai) of the 35th Army (Belogorsk, Amur Oblast) has been rearmed with T-80BVM tanks.

The independent naval infantry battalion stationed in Temruyk, Krasnodar Krai of the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade (Sevastopol, occupied Crimea, Ukraine) that belongs to the Black Sea Fleet received 40 BTR-82A armored personnel carriers.

The 25th Special Forces Regiment (Stavropol) of the 49th Army (HQ in Stavropol) was fully rearmed with AK-12 assault rifles by early April 2021.

About 40 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles were delivered to the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade (Vladivostok) of the Pacific Fleet.

The 6th Tank Brigade (Mulino, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast) of the 1st Tank Army (HQ in Bakovka, Moscow Oblast) received Tor-M2 short-range surface-to-air missile systems.

The Coastal Missile Battalion on the Alexandra Land island of the Franz Josef Land archipelago reportedly has received Bal mobile coastal defense missile systems in addition to Bastion-P systems it had already possessed.



Russian military satellite Cosmos-2525, in space since late March 2018, fell out of orbit on 1 April 2021 and subsequently burned in the atmosphere. On 23 April 2021, the same happened to Russian military communication satellite Meridian №2 which had been in space since 2009.


Exercises* (besides the ones referred to in the Geostrategic Activities section)

The Northern Fleet held a major exercise in the second half of April 2021, reportedly involving several thousand personnel, about 30 vessels and 40 aircraft.

2,500 Russian troops of the 201st Military Base (a mechanized division) as well as military airplanes, helicopters and UAVs took part in a joint exercise with the armed forces of Tajikistan that was held on 19-23 April 2021. Aircraft from the Russian Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan also participated.

Troops from Belarus and Russian forces of the 6th Tank Brigade (Mulino, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast) of the 1st Tank Army (HQ in Bakovka, Moscow Oblast) held a joint exercise in Mulino, in late March-early April 2021.

Russian Defense Ministry’s image from the joint exercise

Over 4,000 Russian troops of the 7th Military Base (a mechanized brigade) held an exercise in occupied Abkhazia, Georgia in early April 2021. It was preceded in late March by an exercise of 1,000 troops from the same Russian unit. 450 troops of the 4th Military Base (also a mechanized brigade) exercised in occupied Tskhinvali Region, Georgia in late April 2021.


Arms Exports

A batch of Russian BRDM-2MS amphibious armored patrol cars and T-72B1MS tanks was reportedly delivered to Serbia by April 2021.

Russia has delivered three Mi-17V-5 military transport helicopters to Thailand. The delivery brought up the number of these Russian helicopters in the armed forces of Thailand to ten.


*The weekly number of exercises in the Russian armed forces is very large. Therefore, all cannot be included in this digest. The exercises that are included are selected by the author for their strategic significance, particularly large scale, involvement of numerous units and locations, and/or involvement of other nations’ territories under the Russian occupation.