Hostilities in Donbas have not abated since 2014. Meanwhile, in recent days, information about a possible large-scale intrusion of Russian troops into the territory of Ukraine has been circulating actively, followed by Russia’s build-up of tens of thousands of troops in its western regions and the occupied Crimea.
Preparations for invasion?
Of course, no one but Putin’s generals are aware of the Kremlin’s plans. At the same time, such influential Western media as The New York Times and Bloomberg, citing their sources in intelligence, warn of the possibility of Russia’s winter offensive. Currently, according to U.S. intelligence and Ukrainian military leadership, about 92,000 Russian troops are concentrated in the north and east of Ukraine. An increase in the number of troops is recorded in Crimea and near the city of Yelnia, near the Russia–Belarus border. Moreover, tens of thousands of reservists are being mobilised in Russia to support the occupation regime in the seized territories.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken even said that, given the recent build-up of Russian troops, an invasion may be prepared.
At a news conference ahead of the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Riga, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg delivered a warning to Moscow.
“We are, of course, concerned about what we see in and around Ukraine. NATO is closely following the situation around Ukraine and sharing data with the Allies. There is no certainty about the intentions of Russia. But what we do know is that they have concentrated forces close to Ukraine’s borders. And we also know that Russia has used military force against Ukraine before. So, if putting all this together, of course, there are reasons to be deeply concerned,” Stoltenberg said.
At the same time, he added that Russia maintains the illegal annexation of Crimea, destabilises the situation in eastern Ukraine, and continues to carry out cyber attacks against the country. All of these are reasons for serious concern.
“Therefore, we call on Russia to de-escalate, and to reduce tensions. It is also clear that if Russia uses force against Ukraine that will have costs,” the NATO Secretary General stressed.
Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov said that the invasion could take place in January-February 2022. Instead, Russia blames everyone but itself for everything that is happening in its trademark manner. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov tries to convince the world that it is Ukraine that plans aggressive actions against Donbas, “DPR,” “LPR” and accepts military instructors from NATO Member States. However, apart from these words, the Kremlin cannot provide any other proof of its authenticity.
The amassed troops near the Ukrainian border is not the only fact raising concern. After all, over the past six months, the Kremlin leader and several other high-ranking Russian officials have published articles in which they speak aggressively about Ukraine. In these articles, they question the right of Ukraine to exist as a state. They also refuse to recognise the democratically elected Ukrainian authorities.
In particular, Putin‘s proxy and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev expressed the opinion that Ukraine will face an “Afghan scenario,” thus pointing to the danger of the country’s disintegration.
Putin is pressing for solutions beneficial for Russia
Director of the Institute of World Policy Yevhen Magda emphasises that Russia’s war against Ukraine has been in its eighth year already, and more than 14,000 people have fallen victim to it.
“Unfortunately, the hostilities in Donbas have not subsided since 2014, the truces are more of a formal nature. So, I can say that the invasion scale is likely to expand. It is about this scenario that the Western media started to write in early November. Official Kyiv shares this opinion. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that hybrid warfare is not only a combat operation, it also implies an economic and information component, and Russia’s information troops are very well trained and deployed around the world, mostly in Europe. That is why Russia seeks to level Ukraine’s independence in the international arena in various ways as much as possible, using elements of blackmail and pressure,” says Yevhen Magda.
The expert also does not see an opportunity for Russia to retain a significant part of Ukrainian territories. According to him, Russians would seek to devastate the Ukrainian military infrastructure, but in this case, the format of air strikes is more plausible. It is difficult to predict the effectiveness of the repulse as Ukraine has not had an opportunity to test the efficiency of its air defence forces. We can hope for the help of the Western allies, but we must understand that it is impossible to deploy a large number of air defence systems in a short time, even if the West delivers them.
According to Yevhen Magda, Putin is currently pursuing several goals with such actions. “I think that now he is inflating the situation to press for solutions necessary and beneficial for Russia. I mean Ukraine’s readiness to sit down at the negotiation table with militants, launch of Nord Stream 2, and recognition of Vladimir Putin’s parity with the G7 leaders (say, through an informal UN Security Council summit),” Magda explains.
In its desire to make Europe agree to the launch of Nord Stream 2, the Putin regime skates on thin ice. And if they start even a heavily disguised military operation, it will eventually mean the end of Nord Stream 2. In addition, Russia has already lost the element of surprise. After all, the world is aware of a possible military escalation by the Kremlin.
At the same time, Magda draws attention to the fact that American missile destroyers often stay in the Black Sea. Indeed, they were stationed there in the spring and are back now. They have very powerful air defence systems capable of covering the territory of Ukraine almost completely. Of course, not in full, but this is an important factor. It is one thing when pilots feel safe, and another when they can get a missile under their wing.
Moreover, we should not forget about the sanctions that the United States may impose on Russia in case of open aggression. They can also provide military and technical support to Ukraine, but they will not fight for us. Europe also does not sit idle in this situation. Unfortunately, there is no desire inside the EU to actively respond to Russia’s apparent involvement in the migrant crisis on the Belarus–Poland border. It is clear that the European Union has already bumped up against a glass ceiling of sanctions against Russia, which can only be destroyed by an open invasion. However, a clear political statement by the Council of the EU on the possibility of the operation of Nord Stream 2, exclusively in accordance with the norms of the Third Energy Package, could have a sobering effect on the Kremlin. In case of a real invasion, the West could disconnect Russia from the SWIFT payment system and declare the airspace an area closed to military aircraft.
Instead, Russia wants to step up its influence on Ukraine and act not only through its spies, many of whom are currently staying in our territory. After all, the Kremlin considers the seizure of part of Donbas, i.e., a relatively small territory of Ukraine, as an instrument of influence on the whole country, in particular its foreign policy and accession to NATO.
One can assume that Putin fears that this goal will not be achieved. Russia will control a part of Ukraine but will not implement its main plan – the utmost control over the country.
Therefore, a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine is possible but hardly probable. Most analysts believe so. At the same time, we must remember that if the Kremlin is up to something, it has several plans to achieve its goal. Such plans of the Kremlin must be opposed systematically and aggressively, using all possible tools.