In April Ukrainian Army officials revealed that they were tracking the Russian units operating in eastern Ukraine. At that time Ukrainian intelligence had identified portions of the Russian 15th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, 8th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, 331st Airborne Regiment and the 98th Airborne Division operating inside Ukraine. It was noted that Russia moves these units in and out, rarely keeping Russian units in eastern Ukraine for more than a few months. There are some attempts to hide the fact that these Russian soldiers are Russians, but these efforts are not diligently carried out and given all the cell phone cameras around it is easier for anti-Russian civilians in rebel controlled areas to collect and pass on evidence.
NATO intelligence analysts earlier noted that the Russians have been forced to use most of their few capable combat units to support their attempt to seize portions of eastern Ukraine. Thus the Russians have sent in about twenty percent of their combat brigades, usually the most effective (Spetsnaz and airborne) and experienced (ones recently in the Caucasus). For most of the last year parts of at least three of these brigades have been detected inside eastern Ukraine at any one time. At least fifteen combat brigades have had some of their troops in Ukraine during 2014. These brigades represent the best Russia has, as the rest of the army is crippled by inexperience and shortages of personnel and equipment. Russia is still trying to replace obsolete and worn out Cold War era weapons and equipment.
In Russia the reforms of the army that began in 2008 have reduced the number of army units from over 1,800 to fewer than 200 now. Many of the disbanded units were part of the reserve or organizations that had become irrelevant but continued to exist anyway. The army strength is now about 300,000, including SOF (special operations forces, or Spetsnaz). The combat forces comprise 55 combat brigades (33 mechanized infantry and four tank, 22 Spetsnaz, airborne or air assault). These brigades are about half the size of American combat brigades and about a third of the personnel are conscripts who serve for one year. So the skill levels of troops in these brigades is much lower than for comparable troops in American or British brigades (and elite brigades in French, German and some other Western forces.) There are also 28 combat support brigades (eight armed with multi-barrel rocket launchers like the U.S. MLRS, nine with short range ballistic missiles, ten with anti-aircraft missile systems and one engineer brigade).
There are other problems. Since Russia does not admit it has troops inside Ukraine, the hundreds of Russian soldiers killed there so far have been coming back in coffins and the families are increasingly angry about the government secrecy about how their sons died and where. Despite strenuous efforts to suppress news of dead soldiers the Internet allows the news to get around and the families of dead soldiers to get in touch with each other and organize protests and unrest the government does not want. All this is another side effect of military reforms that are still under way.