MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops in northern, eastern and southern Ukraine is fueling fears in Kiev and western capitals that Moscow is planning another attack. Russia denies any such project.
Western military analysts have suggested that Russia cannot keep these troops deployed where they are indefinitely for financial and logistical reasons and should withdraw them by the summer.
Estimates of the number of new Russian troops moving closer to Ukraine range from 60,000 to around 100,000, with a US intelligence document suggesting the number could be increased to 175,000.
US officials have said Russia could attack Ukraine as early as this month when the ground is harder, making it easier for tanks and other armor to move quickly.
In talks this week with America and NATO, Russia asked for security guarantees to defuse the crisis.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Moscow was not ready to wait forever for a response and wanted a detailed written response to every Russian proposal.
What might a Russian attack look like and what might it seek to accomplish?
??Current deployments are versatile. They are keeping Russia’s options open and therefore keeping the defender guessing, ??? Keir Giles, associate researcher at Chatham House, said.
Here are some possible scenarios.
Heavily armed Russian-backed separatists have controlled part of eastern Ukraine since 2014 and continue to exchange fire with Ukrainian government forces despite a 2015 ceasefire that ended major hostilities.
The conflict in Donbass has claimed 15,000 lives, according to Kiev. Ukraine has long accused Russia of having regular troops in the region, which Moscow denies.
Russia has accused Kiev of harboring plans to take over the region by force, which Ukraine denies.
In such a feverish atmosphere, the risk of a misunderstanding or an unplanned escalation is greater, and Russia could use such an incident as a casus belli.
A source familiar with Russian Defense Ministry thinking said that was the most likely scenario if Moscow decided to attack, but was unaware of such a decision. Kiev could also be incited to attack by separatists who could then ask Russia to send troops to help them, he said.
Russian forces could expand fighting in the Donbass to draw Ukraine into a conventional conflict, said Neil Melvin, director of international security studies at the RUSI think tank in London. He said that Moscow could try to seize Ukrainian coastal areas on the Sea of Azov, by creating a land bridge between the Russian city of Rostov and the Donbass to Crimea, adding: “It would put the Ukrainian government under great pressure. »
Russia brought new forces to Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Moscow could launch an attack on Ukraine from Crimea and seize territory up to the Dnieper River that could serve as a natural barrier against any Ukrainian counteroffensive, said Konrad Muzyka, director of the Rochan-based consultancy Poland.
The operation could begin with artillery, missile and air strikes on Ukrainian units in the south, and special forces units could seize bridges and railroad junctions, allowing troops and tanks to advance , did he declare. There are only two Crimean roads that could be blocked or destroyed, a potential weakness, he said.
The forces would secure control of a canal that supplied Crimea with fresh water until Russia annexed the region and Ukraine stopped the flow, he said.
A publicly available US intelligence document said Russia could stage an invasion this month with up to 100 battalion battle groups or some 175,000 troops. He said about 50 BTGs were already in place in northern and eastern Ukraine and in Crimea to the south.
Seizing southern Ukraine could cut Kyiv off from the coast and NATO’s presence in the Black Sea, Melvin said, and could play well with Russian nationalists who see the region as the historic ‘Novorossiya’ . lands, or ??New Russia.??
A multi-pronged assault could also involve moving north-east into Ukraine, encircling but perhaps not penetrating towns where forces could become bogged down in urban fighting. Russian troops could also enter Belarus, opening up a northern front for Ukraine that would bring Russian forces closer to Kiev, Giles said.
“It would of course be the most costly economically, politically and in terms of human lives and that’s probably why it’s the least likely,” he added. Mr. Melvin talked about a total invasion.
Military analysts said that even if it overwhelmed Ukraine’s army, which is half the size of its own, Russia could face guerrilla-style resistance, making it difficult to hold onto captured territory.
MISSILE FIRING OR CYBER ATTACKS
Mr Giles said some scenarios could involve long-range missile attacks or cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure. Missile attacks would take advantage of Ukraine’s weaker missile defenses.
??The different scenarios of exactly how Russia might seek to persuade the West to meet its [security] demands in punishing Kiev do not even necessarily include a ground incursion, ?? he said.
Image: A Russian T-72B3 main battle tank drives during military exercises at the Kadamovsky firing range in Rostov region, Russia, December 20, 2021. Reuters/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo