It became obvious in December 2021 that Russian President Vladimir Putin was getting ready to invade Ukraine. Russia deployed 100,000 additional troops to the border and ratcheted up the threatening rhetoric against the Ukrainian government.
U.S. intelligence now believes that the pieces are all in place and a detailed plan is being executed to justify an invasion of Ukraine. And the Ukrainian government is sounding the alarm.
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Talks between Russia and the U.S. to resolve the crisis ended on Thursday with Russia signaling that they might abandon diplomatic efforts to resolve the security crisis surrounding Ukraine, and resort to military force.
One senior Russian diplomat said that talks with the West were approaching a “dead end,” while another said the Kremlin would wait until it received written responses to its demands from Washington and from NATO next week before deciding how to proceed.
Russian “demands” are absurd. Putin is demanding that NATO not expand any further and actually kick out several nations including Poland and the Czech Republic. These were never serious proposals.
Russia is demanding that NATO drastically scale back its presence near Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe, including stopping all military cooperation with Ukraine and providing legally binding guarantees that the country will never join the alliance. Mr. Ryabkov said that dialogue with the United States was continuing but also warned that Mr. Putin was receiving options from the military about what to do “in the case of a deterioration of the situation.”
But Russia needs a fig leaf justification to “satisfy world opinion” (aka allow nations to pretend Russia has a valid reason to invade). National security advisor Jake Sullivan believes the operation is already underway.
“Our intelligence community has developed information, which has now been downgraded, that Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating the pretext for an invasion,” Sullivan said on Thursday. “We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again.”
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday that “the military units of the aggressor country and its satellites receive orders to prepare for such provocations.”
One indication that such a provocation is being manufactured could be the recent massive cyberattack on Ukrainian government websites. The hackers conducting the cyber strike posted a warning to “be afraid and expect the worst.” The Ukrainian government believes the hackers gained access through a third party, which designed the systems.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Russia has begun moving tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, rocket launchers, and other military equipment from bases in the far eastern part of the country to the western border with Ukraine.
If deployed near Ukraine, the officials and analysts said, the new materiel would reinforce the Kremlin’s options to use force—from large incursions to pinprick attacks—to try to weaken the pro-Western government in Kyiv, increase Russia’s control in eastern Ukraine, batter the country’s economy and prevent it from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Russia’s defense ministry said Friday that troops of the Eastern Military District had started “a sudden check of combat readiness” as part of regularly scheduled drills.
Some analysts caution that Putin may be toying with the west, moving pieces on a chessboard in an elaborate feint. The purpose would be twofold. First, Putin hates NATO and the United States, and nothing gives him more personal pleasure than watching the U.S. and NATO chase their tails.
Second, the feint keeps his primary target — the Ukrainians — off-balance and guessing. That will certainly give Russian forces an advantage if Putin decides to invade in the next few weeks.
Why is Putin making these seemingly reckless moves against Ukraine when he knows that the west will bring punishing sanctions against Moscow? From Putin’s point of view, Russia is already one of the most-sanctioned nations in the world, and a few more sanctions won’t materially affect the Russian economy.
More to the point, Putin will invade because no one will stand against him. He has correctly deduced that Joe Biden is a weak sister and NATO is a hollow shell. They will give him virtual carte blanche in eastern Europe to fulfill his revanchist dreams of re-establishing the old Soviet empire.