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- After training in Belarus, an elite Russian tank force is back in eastern Ukraine to fight again.
- The 1st Guards Tank Army has repeatedly been beaten in battle and has suffered heavy losses
- This move comes ahead of an expected Russian offensive in the near future.
A Russian tank force long considered elite that’s taken a beating on the battlefield in Ukraine appears to be readying to try its luck again.
The 1st Guards Tank Army (1 GTA) has suffered heavy losses in battle while squaring off against Ukrainian forces on multiple occasions, and after some elements temporarily withdrew, it appears to be back in Ukraine ahead of an expected offensive by Russian forces.
This tank army consists of several powerful divisions, including the 2nd Guards Motor Rifle Division (GMRD), which had been deployed to Russian ally Belarus for training over the last few months.
Britain’s defense ministry wrote in an intelligence update last month that the “majority” of the 2nd GMRD had transferred back to Russia and was “almost certainly” being recommitted to the fighting in Ukraine. It said this unit, part of an army that was once seen as very capable, is now “primarily made up of mobilized personnel operating older equipment taken from storage. Its combat effectiveness will likely be limited despite several weeks of training.”
It added that there is a “realistic possibility” other Russian units have been rotated into Belarus in a similar strategy of regrouping units to maintain the fight in Ukraine.
Echoing this assessment, Ukrainian intelligence observed elements of the 2nd GMRD had pulled out of Belarus and had partially deployed to eastern Ukraine’s occupied Luhansk region, according to a recent analysis by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank.
Smoke rises from a Russian tank destroyed by the Ukrainian forces on the side of a road in Luhansk region on February 26, 2022.
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Recent movement of Russia’s 1 GTA, which consists of tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery units, was reported by Forbes in late January.
Once famous for its efforts against the Nazis during World War II, the tank army appears to have lost a step, suffering devastating defeats in multiple engagements with Ukrainian forces during Russia’s large-scale assault on its neighbor.
1 GTA first took heavy casualties during the early days and weeks of the war as Russian forces attempted to capture both the capital city Kyiv and the major city of Kharkiv. The tank army was routed in the northeastern Kharkiv region months later during Ukraine’s late-summer lightning-fast counteroffensive, which saw Kyiv liberate thousands of square miles of territory that was previously under Russian occupation.
Now, after regrouping and training in Belarus, the tank army appears to be gearing up to become a part of an anticipated Russian offensive in the coming months, which ISW said this week is Moscow’s “most likely course of action.” The think tank suggested Ukraine plans to push back with its own counteroffensive.
Ukrainian and Western officials have warned recently that a possible Russian offensive is looming in the near future. Last week, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at a briefing that Russia “continues to recruit, refit, and reenergize their efforts” to be able to carry out an offensive.
Meanwhile, Western countries have ramped up security assistance to Ukraine, pledging to send hundreds of armored vehicles to help the country fend off what one US official described as an expected “Russian onslaught.”