For the past few weeks, Russian military movements on the border with Ukraine have alarmed the world. Many fear that Moscow might try to do a repeat of 2014 when Russian forces invaded and annexed Crimea.
Is Russia Ready to Pounce?
Since October, the Kremlin has been amassing troops and materiel on the border with Ukraine under the pretext of exercises. This is the second time that Moscow has built up its military strength in the region this year. In April, during the first months of the Biden administration, Russian forces against amassed on the border, and many feared that they would strike.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. intelligence community estimates that there are close to 70,000 Russian troops divided into 100 tactical task forces in the border region. Currently, approximately 50 of these units have been deployed into four locations opposite Ukraine. However, U.S. officials believe that that number might rise to potentially 175,000 troops soon.
“The Russian plans call for a military offensive against Ukraine as soon as early 2022 with a scale of forces twice what we saw this past spring during Russia’s snap exercise near Ukraine’s borders. The plans involve extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups with an estimated 175,000 personnel, along with armor, artillery and equipment,” a U.S. administration official said, according to the Washington Post.
The U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of potential troops is almost double the number of troops that Ukrainian military intelligence had assessed a few days ago.
Kyiv had then estimated that Moscow had deployed about 90,000 troops, 1,200 tanks, 2,900 armored personnel carriers, 1,600 pieces of artillery, 330 fighter, bomber, and attack jets, 240 helicopters, and 81 surface warships and submarines. In addition, the Ukrainian military intelligence claimed that Russia had installed more than 2,000 troops in the separatist units that have been fighting Ukrainian military forces in the Donbas region since 2014.
What’s Going On In Ukraine?
What Moscow might very well be doing with respect to Ukraine is softening the target. If Russian troops keep showing up on the border repeatedly, the Ukrainian people and the international community might gradually not pay enough attention after the first few times. But that would give Moscow the advantage of surprise in case it does decide to strike at some point as its opponents would have been desensitized to the presence of large formations of troops.
Moscow has always been very protective about its sphere of influence, or the countries that once composed the Soviet Union. Ukraine was one of them, and a potential loss of Kyiv to the West through NATO or the European Union seems to be a red line for the Kremlin.
In a speech to Russian diplomats in November, President Vladimir Putin has said about the tensions that, “Our recent warnings [in Ukraine] have been noticed and had an effect. A certain tension has appeared there. We need for this condition to remain as long as possible, so nobody gets it into their head to cause a conflict we don’t need on our western borders.
President Biden is scheduled to talk with President Putin next week.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.