[This analysis seems to be the best of all the analyses. I think Putin is simply doing some sabre rattling and playing a game of brinkmanship. THIS WILL NOT LEAD TO A WORLD WAR. I think a clincher in this analysis is that Putin's own popularity in Russia is collapsing so he needs something patriotic to rally the people around. It would be interesting if he were to invade to seize perhaps a piece of the Ukraine. I find it fascinating to see the power of social media with regard to troop movements. This could be just normal, or it could even be a deliberate ploy!!! Something NOT mentioned here, is whether Putin is taking advantage of the brain damaged fool, Biden to make his moves now. I think Putin and Trump got along well. So that might also be part of Putn's calculation. Putin has successfully seized the Crimea WHICH IS A PART OF THE UKRAINE as I understand it. And he got away with it. If so, then what stops him from seizing a chunk of the Eastern Ukraine? If he openly seized a chunk of Ukraine in 2014, and neither the US nor the EU nor the UN stopped him, then why would they stop him now? According to Nordlux, my Bulgarian pal, he thinks that Russia is slowly expanding and trying to seize back chunks of territory it used to have in the time of the Soviet Union. I doubt the EU or the USA are keen to fight. And the Ukrainians seem as if they could get a hiding. The buildup does not seem to be large enough to seize Ukraine in its entirety. It seems to either be brinkmanship, or, if things go well, they might seize a city or some other area. This could also be a test to see if ALL of the Ukraine could be seized later. Putin liked the time when the USSR was powerful, and I think it was Lenin who said something along these lines, that if you move forward and you find there is resistance then stop, but if you find there is no resistance, then keep pushing forward. I think in a nutshell it is a test to see what can be achieved and how much resistance will come, and if he sees that the resistance is weak then he can move forward aggressively either in the short term or the longer term. But no, this will NOT lead to WORLD WAR. These are just small games in an otherwise, dreadfully quiet world. Jan]
Russia has sparked alarm in Ukraine and throughout the international community in recent days by massing its armed forces close to the Ukrainian border. The military build-up has raised fears of a possible Russian offensive that could push beyond the areas of eastern Ukraine currently under Kremlin control and lead to a dramatic escalation in the simmering seven-year conflict between the two countries.
Ukraine’s Western partners have responded to the threat by voicing their support for Ukrainian sovereignty and calling on Russia to end its aggressive actions. As tensions mounted late last week, US President Joe Biden made his long-awaited first call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and “affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea.”
As details of Russia’s troop movements emerged, the US European Command raised its alert status to the highest level. Some military observers believe the Kremlin may be engaged in strategic posturing in order to intimidate Zelenskyy and test the resolve of the new Biden administration. However, a number of factors point to the possibility of a looming Russian offensive.
At home, Putin faces parliamentary elections in September with his approval ratings in a slump and support for his United Russia political party collapsing. A military adventure in nearby Ukraine could act as a convenient distraction and serve to revitalize Putin’s personal popularity. In a worrying indication of Moscow’s intentions, the Kremlin-controlled Russian media has recently stepped up its propaganda attacks on Ukraine and begun accusing the Ukrainian authorities of plotting an offensive of their own.
Hopes of achieving a favorable peace agreement with Zelenskyy have also now largely evaporated. When the Russian-speaking former comic was elected as Ukraine’s sixth president in spring 2019, there was some initial optimism in Moscow that he would prove more ready to concede on key issues in order to secure peace. Instead, Zelenskyy has refused to budge on the fundamentals of Ukrainian sovereignty in the occupied east, and has resisted Russian attempts to distance itself from the conflict. In recent months, Zelenskyy has also infuriated Moscow by targeting the Kremlin’s allies in Ukraine, including Putin’s personal friend and close ally, Viktor Medvedchuk.
Growing Russian frustrations have led to an upsurge in violence in eastern Ukraine since the beginning of 2021. On March 26, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed by Russian shelling, taking the death toll for the year to at least 19 Ukrainian servicemen.
A large-scale invasion by conventional forces would represent a major escalation in Russia’s seven-year campaign of aggression against Ukraine. Since fighting first erupted in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Kremlin has sought to maintain a veil of plausible deniability by deploying limited numbers of conventional troops alongside hybrid forces comprised of mercenaries, volunteers, and local collaborators. If the Russian army units gathering close to Ukraine are deployed, it would mark an entirely new stage in the conflict that would have grave implications for international security.
The Atlantic Council invited a range of experts to share their views on what Russia’s current military build-up could mean for Ukraine and the international community.
John Herbst, Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council: Moscow is back to playing brinkmanship in Ukraine. Over the past weeks, it has built up military forces in northern Crimea and along Ukraine’s eastern border. Russian officials and senior media figures have spread the lies that Kyiv is preparing a military offensive and shelling civilians in occupied eastern Ukraine. All of this could be preparation for a new Kremlin offensive. The aim might be to seize Mariupol or the canal in Kherson Oblast taking water from the Dnipro River to Crimea, or Russia may seek to introduce “peacekeepers” into the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples Republics.
Alternatively, it might simply be an effort to force concessions from President Zelenskyy and test US President Joe Biden. If that is the case, Biden has passed the test. Washington bombarded Kyiv with telephone calls last week, with calls coming from Biden himself, NSC Adviser Sullivan, Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley, all offering support for Ukraine as it faces this latest provocation. To ensure that the Kremlin got the message, Milley also called Moscow.
All of this reduces the odds that Moscow will strike. But the feckless response from Berlin and Paris, calling on both Russia AND Ukraine to avoid provocative steps, does the opposite. It is now time for Washington to provide additional leadership by announcing conditional sanctions that would be levied on Russia if it escalates in Ukraine. The sanctions could be placed on a major bank such as Vnesheconombank, but certainly on Nord Stream 2.