As concerns grow that Russia may launch an offensive against Ukraine, Moscow is further boosting its combat power on Ukraine's southern flank, establishing an airborne infantry regiment on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has occupied since 2014.
Announced in March, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed on Wednesday that an airborne regiment will be activated in Crimea by early December. The 56th Guards Air Assault Brigade will be reformed as the 56th Guards Air Assault Regiment. It will be transferred 600 miles from its Russian mainland base to Feodosia in southeastern Crimea. This redeployment follows recent boosts to Russia's military footprint in Crimea, including a naval aviation regiment.
Russia already has an airborne battalion in Crimea, which will likely form part of the 56th Regiment. Taken together, Russian President Vladimir Putin now has a significant combined armed force with which to threaten Ukraine's southern flank.
Russian airborne forces are well equipped and designed to be aggressive and flexible. Airborne forces in Crimea could jump into Ukraine proper, but they could also use their mechanized equipment to conduct an amphibious assault on the mainland. Taking a page from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, Russia has also boosted the role of helicopters in its airborne assault planning. In turn, if deployed alongside conventional ground forces trying to punch across the two highways linking Crimea to Ukraine proper, these airborne units would have a chance of rapidly encircling Ukrainian forces.
This matters in the context of rising tensions.
Any new Russian offensive against Ukraine would likely center, at least in part, on seizing portions of the M20 northern highway linking the port city of Mariupol, just a few miles from the Russian-supported rebel front line, to rebel-controlled Donetsk. Forces from Crimea could either directly support those operations or tie down Ukrainian forces (to guard against the potential of Russia opening a second front from the peninsula).
So Putin is steadily building his means of either successfully launching a new offensive or extorting new political concessions from Kyiv. Unfortunately, based on their track records, France and Germany are likely to look at these new steps and demand concessions from Ukraine.
If President Joe Biden cares at all about Ukraine's democratic sovereignty, he might want to reconsider his strategy toward the Kremlin of verbose concession.