© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Soldier of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Participates in Military Exercises at a Range Near the Crimean Border that Annexed Russia in the Kherson Region, Ukraine, in this photo published by the General Staff of the Armed Forces
By Mark Trevelyan
(Reuters) – Movements by Russian troops near Ukraine have raised concerns among Kiev and the United States that they may consider attacking their neighbor. Here’s a look at some of the questions that open up.
WHAT DO THE TWO SIDES SAY ABOUT THE RISK OF CONFLICT?
Russia denies threatening anyone and says it can deploy its troops on its own territory as it wishes. She accused Ukraine and NATO of raising tensions and hinted that Kiev may be preparing to try to retake the two eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014. Russia’s foreign spy agency this week compared the situation to the 2008 war in which Russian forces broke forces. neighboring Georgia.
Ukraine denies planning such an offensive and says Russia has more than 92,000 troops gathered near its borders for a possible attack.
HOW PROBABLE IS A RUSSIAN INVASION?
Reuters spoke to more than a dozen sources, including Western intelligence officials and Russians familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking, and almost all agreed that an invasion was not inevitable. The more likely scenario, they said, was for President Vladimir Putin to use a credible threat of military force to signal that Russia is serious in defending its “red lines” in Ukraine. In recent weeks, she has repeatedly stated that she is not ready to accept the delivery of NATO weapons to Ukraine or any military presence there, let alone the prospects for Ukraine’s eventual membership in the alliance. According to these sources, Putin is skilled in escalating and de-escalating crises – as he did in the spring, when more than 100,000 Russian troops gathered near the Ukrainian border and then withdrew. In doing so, he is forcing Russia’s opponents to speculate about his intentions and reminding the West that Russia is a force to be reckoned with.
IF THERE WAS A WAR, WHAT COULD IT LOOK LIKE?
Russia’s armed forces have 900,000 active members compared to 209,000 in Ukraine, an advantage of more than four to one, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). But Samir Puri, a senior associate for hybrid warfare at the IISS, said the real advantage for Russia is that it already has lawmakers fighting the separatist war in eastern Ukraine, giving it the ability to connect with them and expand the area. is already under their control. If a wider invasion were launched, he said, it could consider an attack from the north (from Russia and its ally Belarus), from the east or from the south (via Crimea, which Russia occupied from Ukraine in 2014), with a naval attack on the cities of Odessa and Mariupol.
HOW MUCH IS UKRAINE READY TO DEFEND ITSELF?
Ukraine is significantly stronger militarily than in 2014, when it lost Crimea to Russia without a real fight. It has advanced anti-tank missiles supplied by Washington, and could rely on the support of U.S. intelligence. But he would still face a huge opponent – Russia’s advantage in battle tanks, for example, is more than three to one.
“For Ukraine, the question would be … to resist as much as they can, to pray for the help of the West and eventually retaliate,” said Mathieu Boulegue, a researcher at London’s Chatham House Research Center. “If Russia invades completely, the question for Kiev will be to start a war against the uprising so that the cost of the invasion would be huge for Russia.
WHAT ELSE CAN PREVENT MOSCOW?
The West imposed sanctions on Russia after the capture of Crimea and could add new painful measures, such as preventing it from pumping Russian gas through the newly built Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany. Putin would risk a complete severance of relations with the West if he invaded. It is unclear how far NATO could come to the defense of Ukraine, something that would be risky for all parties. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but if you do nothing, the alliance would seem irrelevant.
“This is a game on the edge that is being played. Both NATO in Brussels and Moscow will calculate where the escalation steps could lead. If NATO were deployed to fight … the Russians would see this as an incredible escalation,” said Puri.
“I think it is unlikely that (Ukraine) will end up as a battlefield – but that is actually a question that Russia and NATO are currently considering in Ukraine.