How imminent is the threat of a full-scale war on the Ukrainian border? It’s the question on many minds. While diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis are ramping up, the Russian troop buildup also continues, according to the Pentagon.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s position is that the threat from Russia remains “dangerous but ambiguous,” and it is not certain that an attack will take place, a senior Ukrainian official told CNN.
But US President Joe Biden told Zelensky on a call Thursday that there was a distinct possibility Russia could launch an invasion in February, according to National Security Council Spokesperson Emily Horne.
Taking that into account, here’s a look at how soon an incursion could happen:
Analysts say Russia has a menu of options to attack at any moment it chooses, from shock-and-awe style air strikes to a ground invasion along a broad front. But while it has moved large amounts of military equipment into place in areas bordering Ukraine, not all the personnel needed for a ground operation are ready.
“At the moment, Russia has a lot of equipment pre-positioned along with its own border with Ukraine,” said Janes, a global agency for open-source defense intelligence. “(This) reduces the amount of time it requires for them to fill that area with more forces if they decide to fight because all of their heavy equipment’s there.”
Troops can be deployed in less than 72 hours, the agency said, since they need only be sent from their bases by plane or train across the country.
Russia is also in the process of deploying “quite a sizable formation” in Belarus from its Eastern Military District (EMD), which extends from Russia’s Pacific Coast to Siberia, Janes said. This formation, which Janes first detected moving west early this month, appears to include troops, logistics and communications resources as well as military equipment.
Russia has said the force is there for a Russian-Belarusian training exercise. But according to Janes, the troops “are essentially deploying as close to ready to go as you can be.”
Judging by what has been pre-positioned on Russian soil near Ukraine’s border, it considers Russia would require “maybe a maximum of two weeks of intense movement to bring all of the pieces into position” if it were to launch an invasion.
Whether Russia would want to put large numbers of boots on the ground remains unclear, particularly given the risk of casualties.
“The important thing to realize is that (Russia) is quite wary of what it calls contact warfare,” that is, forces fighting each on the ground, said Sam Cranny-Evans, a research analyst with the UK-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
“We’ve seen (this) in Chechnya, in Afghanistan, in Georgia and its covert deployments to Ukraine, that military losses actually do generate political pressure.”
Russia could instead opt to use its very long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to target critical national infrastructure within Ukraine, such as military bases or even power plants and bridges, Cranny-Evans said. “The goal is to either stop a contact conflict from emerging or shape the battlefield so that when one does emerge, it’s much more favorable to the Russian forces,” he said.
US intelligence findings in December estimated that Russia could begin a military offensive in Ukraine “as soon as early 2022.” Since then, US officials have stuck to that line.
“In terms of timelines, what we’ve seen up until now has been very overt signaling of the intention for the ability to invade Ukraine,” said Cranny-Evans. But the Russians are “taking their time” to get the final pieces into place in order to leave space for conversations which might allow them to achieve their political goals, such as installing a pro-Kremlin or even neutral leader in Kiev, without having to fight, he suggested.
If it does come to an invasion, he considers that Russia could move the necessary troops into place in the space of 72 hours. “It’s the forces that Russia already has in the Southern Military District on the borders with Ukraine that would probably take on the first bit of fighting,” Cranny-Evans said.
The Kremlin denies it is planning to attack and argues that it is NATO’s support for Ukraine — including increased weapons supplies and military training — that constitutes a growing threat on Russia’s western flank.
Read the full story — which also looks at what a potential invasion might look like — here:
Russia says it doesn’t want war and signals opening for diplomacy in Ukraine crisis