In recent weeks, the US has warned of the amassing of Russian troops ("100,000 soldiers", although if you read the specific claims it's more like 50,000 and even that's not quite verified) near the Russia-Ukraine border. Russia is reported as claiming it is conducting military exercises near the border, but with much much fewer troops.

Now, obviously, states conduct military exercises, and those are often close to the relevant theaters of operations. My question is: How frequently has Russia, in the past, conducted military exercises or otherwise amassed troops on a comparable scale near its borders with neighbor states?

I realize the question is a bit tricky because the scale of the Russian activities is itself contested, but still - large-scale, tens-of-thousands of troops.

The motivation is to understand how out-of-the-ordinary - if at all - the recent reported military build-up by Russia actually is.

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    I don't have an answer to your question, except to note that i can't recall Russia doing this for a while. But I want to point out that 'military exercise' is a diplomatic euphemism (no matter what nations). Large movements of troops and arms are always either (a) a direct threat of military action or (b) an explicit show of force; calling it an 'exercise' is just being coy. Note that if Russia merely wanted a training exercise, they could hold it anywhere from Moscow to Kamchatka without raising anyone's hackles. Doing it on their Western border is at best theater and at worst staging. Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 13:42
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    On reflection, I'll note that the US and South Korea did yearly joint military 'exercises' near the border of North Korea from 1997 to 2018 (and possibly at other times I'm unaware of), and China does 'exercises' in the East China Sea and (I believe) near the border with India. It's hardly an uncommon practice... Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 14:20
  • NATO had some military 'exercises' in the Black Sea befor, so this could be some kind of response.
    – convert
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 14:48
  • @TedWrigley: Of course large exercises also serve as threats, or covers for invasion, but just like you noted - if US and SK hold the n'th annual military exercise near NK, one does not then assume an invasion is imminent.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 17:13
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    @einpoklum: No interested nation can afford to assume that an invasion is not imminent; ignoring that assumption might (in and of itself) trigger an invasion. Let's not give in to naïveté. Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 20:56

1 Answer 1


No, it is not a rare occurrence, not according to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine. ‘We don’t have a Titanic here’: President Volodymyr Zelenskiy complains war talk causing panic:

Zelenskiy said the recent buildup of Kremlin forces was “no more intense” than in spring 2021. “If you look at the satellite you will see the increase of troops. You can’t assess if it’s a threat, an attack or simple rotation,” he said, adding that some of the tents for Russian soldiers appeared to be empty.

Moscow moved in additional troops before major diplomatic negotiations, he said. “...They are trying to build up psychological pressure.”

In the past, Zelenskiy has pointed out that Ukraine has been at war for eight years, since Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 and started a separatist conflict in Donbas.

These sentiments were further reinforced by Ukraine's defense minister (despite his estimates of Russian troop count being significantly greater in number than stated by OP), as of 28 January 2022, ibid 1:

Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said 112,000 Russian servicemen were on the border, with the number increasing to about 130,000, including navy and aviation personnel.

Reznikov said the deployment was no bigger than last April, when Russia dispatched 126,000 troops. The reaction from the international community was “disproportionate”, he told the Rada.

Rada refers to Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s house of parliament.

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    According to Russian news, Ukraine was first to amass army on their side of the border. Which is now 125,000 if I'm not mistaking. So, the good question is, why Ukraine is moving forces to one place, very close to Russian border? Either way, forces are within own country's borders, at least atm.
    – zmechanic
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 19:03
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    Do you feel that Russia and their state-run news have a history of portraying events in a truthful manner?
    – PureW
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 20:10
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    @EllieKesselman - I don't think most people believe that Biden specifically knows more about what is going to happen than Zelenskiy. I imagine that those who take Zelenskiy's declarations at face value and still believe a Russian invasion of Ukraine is likely think that the massive apparatus of US spies that informs Biden knows more about Russia's goals than Ukrainian spies do. Although I would note that there have been recent cases of world leaders (in the United States, say) who knew less about their own country than anyone would have thought possible, to say nothing of their neighbors.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 20:39
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    @EllieKesselman - But even if Zelenskiy is better-informed, another question is whether he has incentives to be less than completely honest, right? After all, he himself says that the talk of war is causing economic chaos in Ukraine. If he downplays the threat and Putin invades, he will probably have to flee, but he probably would have had to anyway (and he can still reinforce the military while publicly denying any threat). If he downplays the theat and Putin does not invade, he looks better to the electorate and the economy may suffer less damage. He has little incentive not to downplay it.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 20:49
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    @zmechanic because of course Ukraine invading Russia is an extremely believable threat. Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 23:05

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