– A few days ago I was of the opinion that this was not preparation for aggression, so unfortunately I changed my mind until today – says Gazeta.pl Konrad Muzyka, founder of Rochan Consulting, an analyst dealing in detail with the movements of the Russian army. – The signals are very disturbing and you can see a serious effort to build up the forces. Something like this is done for a reason. I don’t think a political decision about the war has already been made. I suppose, however, that Vladimir Putin wants to have all the possibilities available – he adds.
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The disturbing movements of the Russians
Signals about a dangerous situation in eastern Ukraine come more and more often and in an increasingly disturbing way. Last Sunday, the head of the Ukrainian military intelligence gave an interview to the American industry portal “Military Times”, in which he presented the Ukrainian assessment of the situation in an unusually detailed manner. Clearly in order to publicize the matter and interest the world in it. In the opinion of Ukrainians, the Russian army will be ready for aggression in winter, in January or February. Yesterday there was additional information that the Americans are warning their European allies about a serious threat from Russia in the direction of Ukraine. Information quickly became public, so the movement’s goal was probably to show Russia that NATO is aware of what is happening.
Music, who is professionally involved in tracking the activity of the Russian military in Europe, until recently believed that the situation is not yet very disturbing, because the construction of logistic facilities for troops on the border with Ukraine is not visible. So you cannot see the creation of reserves of fuel, ammunition, food or the construction of field workshops and hospitals. All that you cannot wage war without.
– Unfortunately, you can already see such movements. The most disturbing thing is that the Russians have started to withdraw equipment from the storage and modernization bases – says Muzyka. Such bases are places where a supply of various types of weapons is stored, which is not needed on a regular basis in military units, or requires thorough renovation or modernization. He is waiting there for a moment when, for example, new units need to be quickly armed. “This clearly shows that what is happening now is not an exercise and is a very disturbing signal,” said the analyst.
According to General Kyryl Budanov, who spoke for the Military Times, the Russians already have 40 tactical battalion groups (BGT) ready to attack Ukraine. These are the basic building blocks from which the Russians build their forces for specific tasks. Above them there are armies, divisions, brigades, but BGTs are the basic pawns on the chessboard that tell the most about the size of the forces in a given place. – A battalion tactical group is a flexible entity. Depending on what tasks are planned for it, its composition may be modified. To put it simply, it is about 700-900 soldiers, about ten tanks and 40 armored personnel carriers plus artillery – explains Muzyka.
Graphics presented by General Kyryło Budanov, intended to show the current and possible concentration of Russian forces on the border, and the main directions of strikes Photo MilitaryTimes
According to the map presented by General Budanov, the Russians strengthened their forces in the Crimea to the greatest extent. In addition to the six BGTs stationed there permanently, six more were to appear. – On the basis of open data, it cannot be said what exactly the Russians have now placed in Crimea. It is certain, however, that a lot of equipment was thrown there – says Muzyka. – The Ukrainian accounts speak of six additional BGTs and if NATO, or more specifically the US, provides them with information from its intelligence, these accounts may be accurate. I, based on the information available to civilians, am sure that there are four additional BGTs in Crimea – he adds.
According to the same map, virtually all of eastern Ukraine up to the Dnieper line is to be threatened by the Russian offensive. Additionally, the possibility of a sea landing in Odessa and connection with Russian forces stationed in Transnistria is suggested. The attack on western Ukraine from the territory of Belarus with the help of airborne troops is also marked. However, Muzyka admits that it does not fully understand what the Ukrainians meant here. There is no evidence that there are currently Russian airborne troops in Belarus. Perhaps the Ukrainians are trying to suggest that a surprising attack will be launched from the territory of Belarus, forcing the Ukrainian army to disperse its forces and throw them also to the west of the country.
Russia does not want to give up Ukraine
But why would Vladimir Putin enter the vast territory of Ukraine and become involved in an open war with his neighbor, which would be much more intense and bloody than what happened in 2014-2015? At that time, on the one hand, the Ukrainian army was weak and disorganized, and on the other, mostly irregular mercenary formations, supported only to a limited extent by the Russian army. Now there would have to be an open fight between the armed forces of Russia and Ukraine. The Russians still have the advantage, but it probably wouldn’t be a walk.
According to the American media, Washington has already prepared a package of sanctions that would, inter alia, cut Russia off from the world’s financial systems. The costs of invading Ukraine would therefore be high. For what might Putin be ready to bear them? Russia analysts Michael Kimmage and Michael Kofman explain a lot in their article for Foreign Affairs. The title says it all, or at least most of it: “Russia will not let Ukraine go without a fight.” In their opinion, the Kremlin simply concluded that further attempts to diplomatically stop Ukraine from drifting into the Western orbit of influence have no chance of success. The spring threat due to the significant concentration of military forces on the border did not bring any effect. So it was decided to use the ultimate tool: open violence.
According to both analysts, it is not the case that Russia is satisfied with the current situation in Ukraine, i.e. the annexation of Crimea and the maintenance of the frozen conflict in the Donbas. The aim has always been to rebuild political control over the neighbor and not allow it to be integrated into the West. Although after the elections in 2019 it could have seemed that the new president of Ukraine, Volodymir Zelensky, would be open to negotiations and implementation of the Minsk agreements of 2015 (which are very unfavorable for Ukraine, but which she had to sign with the Russian pistol to her head after the defeat at the beginning of 2015) in the fighting in the Donbass), so until today it has changed its course to a decidedly anti-Russian one.
– Moscow is constantly losing influence in Ukraine. The government in Kiev has firmly rejected Russia’s demands in 2020 (concerning mainly the implementation of the Minsk agreements – ed.), Showing that it is not interested in a compromise with Putin. European states seem to support this decision, and Ukrainians are deepening military cooperation with Russia’s rivals, analysts write. They add that Russia is now in a good position, because thanks to rising commodity prices it has managed to rebuild its foreign exchange reserves, which were heavily depleted in the aftermath of the 2014-15 war. The sanctions introduced at that time were also complied with. Thanks to the intensification of repression, internal resistance was practically disposed of. Moreover, due to the current energy crisis and the almost completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Russia has an even greater influence on Europe than a year ago. At the same time, Americans have been emphasizing more and more for several years that their main concern is now China, and the Joe Biden administration has made attempts to establish a dialogue with Moscow and normalize relations.
– The Russian leadership sees no chance for a peaceful solution to the situation and is convinced that Ukraine is shifting into the American sphere of influence. For this reason, Moscow may consider war inevitable. Certainly, the Kremlin does not assume that it will be easy or without serious consequences, but considers the course taken by Ukraine unacceptable. The Russians might also have decided that reaching for a force solution would be less expensive now than in a few years, when Ukraine will be in the Western sphere of influence for good, analysts write. The war is not to be a foregone conclusion, but to be realistically considered. And if Russia fails to obtain favorable concessions under pressure, it may exceed the Rubicon.
According to Kimmage and Kofman, the West should do several things in the face of this situation. First, to get rid of the erroneous and harmful belief that Russia is a declining power that is about to collapse under its own weight. In their opinion, Russia is and will be a serious rival and a threat, so instead of lying to yourself, you have to start taking it seriously. This means, among other things, adopting a firm and clear stance now, preparing for a possible war, and avoiding another show of indecision and slow reactions, as it was in 2014-15.
– Although Washington may want to keep some room for maneuver in secret, it should openly determine, together with its European allies, how far it is ready to go in defense of Ukraine’s independence. Long before the conflict broke out. This will require a firm expression of the readiness and strength of the Western states in the coming weeks. The scale of the humanitarian and strategic effects of the open Russian invasion of Ukraine requires it, analysts say.