Claim in 2017: "Russia has doubled its fighting power on its Western border.”

Partially Correct: While Russia has fielded additional units in the military districts flanking its western border since 2014, the forces have not doubled; they’ve grown by a smaller degree, ranging from 13 to 50 percent depending on the military unit counted.

Source of the claim: Bruno Kahl, head of the German Federal Intelligence Agency (March 2017)

According to data from The Military Balance, which is published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the following Russian military entities abut Russia’s western frontiers: the Western Military District, whose western border runs from Ukraine to the Baltics and the Arctic; the Southern Military District, which runs from the southern border of Ukraine to the Caucasus and includes Crimea; the operational group of forces in Moldova’s Transnistria; and a radar station and naval communications site in Belarus. In addition to these official units, Russia also has deployed forces in eastern Ukraine, according to The Military Balance. The total number of separate divisions in these western deployments increased by 50 percent from 2014 to 2016; the total number of separate regiments in these western deployments increased by 41 percent from 2014 to 2016; the total number of separate brigades in these western deployments increased by 13 percent; the total number of separate battalions in these western deployments increased by 59 percent from 2014 to 2016; the total number of squadrons decreased by 43 percent.

For a qualitative analysis, see Michael Kofman's "Russian Military Buildup in the West: Fact Versus Fiction."

Russian Military Unit

2014

2015

2016

% change

Divisions

6

6

9

50 percent

Regiments

32

39

45

41 percent

Brigades

60

61

68

13 percent

Air Squadrons

40

33

23

-43 percent

Battalions

(In Southern Military District, Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova)

37

49

59

59 percent

Disclaimers: Bruno Kahl’s reference to “fighting power” is imprecise, as is the time frame to which he refers. We chose to count the number of units, as estimated by The Military Balance, which we believe to be a relatively accurate source of military-related data. The research period is 2014-2016. We picked 2014 as the starting year because that’s when Russia began its military actions in Crimea and Ukraine, which prompted Western policymakers to increasingly view Russia as a threat once again. We picked 2016 as the ending year because the latest edition of The Military Balance, which is published annually, covers events through November 2016. Any changes in Russian military buildup since this time are not reflected in the data.

We also chose not to count the number of tanks, aircraft and other armaments as these are assigned to units and, therefore, any changes in the number of units would correspond with changes in the number of arms. We did not include personnel numbers for Belarus, where Russia maintains a radar station and naval communications site, as The Military Balance does not provide this information. Battalions in Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova were estimated based on troop numbers in The Military Balance, which does not break down foreign deployments by formation. Battalions were estimated to have slightly more than 500 members, which is a conservative estimate, based on Western and Russian sources, for a typical Russian motorized infantry battalion.