Russian troops are gathering on the border with Ukraine. His movements raise concerns between Kiev and its Western allies about a possible invasion of Ukrainian territory. Is an open conflict between Russia and Ukraine possible? How could the Russian invasion go? What may discourage Moscow from taking aggressive actions? Among other things, the Reuters agency responded to these questions regarding the escalation of tensions on the Ukrainian border.
For several weeks now, the Russian army has gathered at the border with Ukraine. Kiev and its NATO allies have expressed concerns that Russian movements could pave the way for a possible invasion. Russia rejects these accusations, accusing the West of escalating tensions.
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What do Russia and Ukraine say about a possible invasion?
According to the head of the main intelligence board of the Ukrainian defense ministry, Kyryl Budanov, Russia has gathered over 92,000 troops at the Ukrainian borders and is preparing to attack in late January or early February next year from several directions. As reported by the Military Times website, such an attack would most likely include air strikes, artillery and armored attacks, and airborne attacks in the east, sea landings in Odessa and Mariupol, and a smaller incursion through Belarus.
Moscow denies reports of the planned attack. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Russia had no intention of attacking anyone and had no aggressive plans. He assured that interpreting the movements of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on its territory in this way was wrong. The Russian side accused Ukraine and NATO allies of stoking tensions and suggested that Kiev may be preparing to recapture the territories occupied by pro-Russian separatists in 2014, which Ukraine has denied, wrote the Reuters agency.
Is the invasion of Ukraine possible?
The Reuters Agency consulted over a dozen sources, including Western intelligence officials and Russians familiar with the way the Kremlin conducts politics. Almost everyone agreed that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was unlikely.
A more plausible scenario mentioned by Reuters’ interlocutors assumes that Vladimir Putin, by using a credible threat to use armed forces, sends a signal that Russia is ready to protect its interests in Ukraine. The Russian side has emphasized several times in recent weeks that it does not agree to the supply of NATO weapons to Kiev or any presence of Alliance soldiers in that country, not to mention the vision of Ukraine’s membership in NATO structures.
The agency’s sources noted that Putin easily copes with the escalation and de-escalation of conflicts. He did so in the spring, among others, when he gathered 100,000 Russian soldiers at the border of Ukraine, which he later withdrew. In this way, Reuters stressed, the Russian leader kept his opponents uncertain as to his intentions and reminded the West that Russia is a force to be reckoned with.
What could a conflict look like if it did occur?
According to the British International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the Russian forces have 900,000 soldiers, which in this respect gives Moscow over four times more than Ukraine, which has 209,000 soldiers.
According to Samir Puri, who studies hybrid wars at the Institute, Russia’s real advantage, however, are the separatists who took control of eastern Ukraine. According to the analyst, this makes it possible to join forces and expand the territory under their control.
The main intelligence management of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine announced on Tuesday that “the command of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is increasing the combat readiness of the Russian occupation forces in the temporarily occupied territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.” As it was added, on Monday, large command post exercises with the participation of the reserve, units of the force structures and the administration began there. According to Ukrainian intelligence, the exercises are controlled by Russia. At the same time, there has been an activation of the Russian propaganda media “in order to prepare further false materials, discrediting” Ukrainian forces, “the press release reads.
If, however, there was a wide invasion, the expert emphasized, Moscow could consider an attack from the north (from its territories and Belarus), from the east or south (from Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014) and a sea attack on the Black Sea ports of Odessa and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
How is Ukraine prepared for a possible invasion?
The Reuters agency stressed that the Ukrainian army is now much stronger than in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea without a fight. Kiev has advanced anti-tank launchers obtained from the United States and can count on the support of American intelligence.
Nevertheless, Russia’s potential towards Ukraine is still overwhelming. British Chatham House think tank analyst Mathieu Boulegue believes the solution for Ukraine would be to “resist as long as possible, pray for the West’s help, until the attack is finally repelled.” He added that in the event of a full invasion, Ukraine would have to conduct military operations that would entail enormous costs of the operation for the Russians.
What else can stop Russia from aggression?
According to Reuters, just like in 2014, when Russia took over Crimea, the West could decide to impose sanctions painful for Moscow in the event of an invasion of Ukraine. The agency cited as an example the blocking of gas flow through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. In the event of aggression, Putin would risk a complete break in relations with Western countries.
It is not clear what role NATO could play. Ukraine is not a member of the Alliance, and any possible intervention would involve a risk for all parties to the conflict. NATO’s passivity in this matter would, however, build its image as an irrelevant alliance, emphasized Reuters.
– We are dealing with a game of survival. Both at NATO headquarters in Brussels and in Moscow, calculations will be made on how far the escalation can go. If NATO were to prepare for combat, it would mean an unlikely escalation for the Russians, assessed Samir Puri.
Main photo source: mil.ru