Ukraine news: From cyberattack to invasion: what is Russia’s plan for Ukraine?
In recent weeks, Moscow has massed some 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, raising fears that the most serious East-West conflict since the Cold War is about to break out.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday in Geneva. The meeting is seen as one of the last diplomatic chances on Ukraine, with Russia loudly protesting its neighbour’s pro-Western orientation.
President Joe Biden this week angered Ukrainian leaders by suggesting that a “minor incursion” by Russia would be met with a more measured response from the West than a massive invasion.
But analysts say the Russian troop deployment gives Moscow a range of options and that President Vladimir Putin will make his choice by weighing factors ranging from Western retaliation to the weather.
“From a military perspective, Russia is preparing for all eventualities, from psychological unrest – via cyber and informational means – to a massive invasion,” said Mathieu Boulegue, a researcher at the London-based think tank . Chatham House.
“For Moscow, the question is no longer ‘if’, but ‘when’ and ‘how’ to intervene in Ukraine”, he declared, believing that “Russia is only waiting for a pretext”.
‘All the possibilities’
Boulegue said the Kremlin was pressed for time because it would be difficult to keep so many Russian troops – many of them deployed from the far east of the country – in place for a long time during the winter months.
Despite the massive ground deployment, an invasion would be costly for Russia, so Putin could instead opt for air and artillery strikes on Ukrainian command and control centers to destroy their ability to retaliate “without having to move Russian troops,” he said.
In what many saw as the opening salvoes of a conflict, Ukraine suffered a massive cyberattack last week that the West has blamed on Russia.
Meanwhile, Moscow is planning major military drills with Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin neighboring Belarus regime in February.
“Russia likes to bring into play forces capable of calibrating the crisis from complete de-escalation to total war, so that it has all the options,” said William Alberque of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
He said those options ranged from cyber warfare and information warfare to “up to a massive invasion”.
“They (Russia) want something from Ukraine,” he added.
Alberque said the changing seasons from winter to spring provided another factor.
“Russia has a window of opportunity from now until daily temperatures rise in Ukraine. The last thing it wants is to mine reservoirs in the spring, where it will get bogged down. completely,” he said.
“Messy and unpredictable”
Pavel Baev, a research professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, predicted that airstrikes would be Russia’s most likely intervention given Ukraine’s inability to respond “anyway significant”.
He said even the large number of Russian troops deployed on the border was not enough for “a massive invasion and occupation” of Ukraine.
“When in 1968 the Soviet Union entered Czechoslovakia – which was a small country – it had at least twice as many troops as Russia on the border with Ukraine,” he noted.
Keir Giles, research director at the Conflict Studies Research Center, said Russia had many options other than a ground invasion to achieve its goals.
“Russia could launch a ground invasion if it wished, but it would be costly, messy and above all unpredictable,” he said.
While the Russian troop build-up was sufficient for a “limited land grab” in Ukraine, the same effect for Russia could be achieved by missile, air or cyber strikes targeting critical Ukrainian military or civilian systems, it said. -he declares.
Such strikes “could be turned on and off at will, and punctuated with pauses to repeat or escalate demands to pressure Kiev to make concessions and its Western partners to grant Russia’s wishes. “, did he declare.