The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is exacerbating. Moscow has gathered over 100,000 soldiers at the Ukrainian border. “Each scenario of a land invasion by Russia carries enormous risks related to the scale of the Western response and Ukrainian resistance,” assessed Dr. Adam Eberhardt, director of the Center for Eastern Studies. Michał Baranowski, director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States think tank, writes, among other things, about how the West should behave when tensions escalate.
Russia is gathering its forces on the border with Ukraine. According to the authorities in Kiev, about 127,000 soldiers are currently stationed at the Ukrainian border. In addition, in January, units of the Russian armed forces began to arrive on the territory of Belarus in connection with the joint military maneuvers of the Union Firm-2022, which are scheduled for February 10-20, 2022. The West’s diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the conflict so far have not brought a solution.
The analysis carried out by bloggers and journalists from the Conflict Intelligence Team group that tracks the movements of Russian troops shows that Brest, near the border with Poland and about 40 kilometers from the border with Ukraine, soldiers from Russian airborne troops appeared.
Russia-Ukraine. Possible development of the conflict
Analyzes on the escalating tension on the Kiev-Moscow line in social media were published by the director of the Center for Eastern Studies, Dr. Adam Eberhardt and Michał Baranowski, director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
The OSW director assessed that “the 2014 war accelerated the erosion of Russian influence on Ukraine“.” To reverse the trend Putin it urgently needs new and more effective coercive measures. ‘More of the same’ is not enough. Hence the risk of extreme, risky actions “- he wrote.
“The easiest way to hit Kiev is through an energy blockade. Although Ukraine has become independent of gas from Russia, it is very susceptible to the suspension of oil products from Russia and Belarus. Coal supplies have already been suspended. In the long term, however, it is a double-edged sword: it forces diversification” – he indicated.
According to the director of the Center for Eastern Studies, Vladimir Putin may “aggravate the situation in Donbas at a low cost, but it is difficult to consume this conflict politically.” The expert noted that Ukraine could not be forced to implement unilaterally the Minsk agreements, so “it is hard to expect that another attempt could persuade Ukraine to grant concessions”. These agreements, which were to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, were signed in Minsk in 2014 and 2015 by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.
“In view of Kiev’s reluctance to reintegrate with Donbas on Russian conditions, the annexation of the region cannot be ruled out. Very costly, counterproductive from the point of view of influencing Ukraine, but – from Putin’s perspective – the expansion of Russia’s borders looks nice in history textbooks,” assessed Adam Eberhardt. The analyst noted that “Russia’s new coercive measure against Ukraine would be precise missile attacks on critical / military infrastructure in order to undermine Ukrainian morale and force concessions.”
At the same time – as he pointed out – “each scenario of a land invasion by Russia carries enormous risks related to the scale of the Western response and Ukrainian resistance”. “The creation of ‘Novorossiya’ from Kharkiv to Odessa would, however, paralyze the functioning of Ukraine. At the cost of the definitive break-up of the two nations,” he added.
Eberhardt pointed to an invasion to temporarily occupy Kiev as the least likely scenario. “It is doubtful whether Russia would be able to install collaborative structures in Kiev that would effectively exercise power. The problem is that Putin overestimates the popularity of the ‘Ruthenian mir’ on the Dnieper,” he added.
“If there is such a need, Ukraine will fight”
Michał Baranowski, director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who recently visited Kiev together with a delegation, wrote on Twitter that “there is no willingness to surrender to the Russian will among Ukrainians”. “They are determined and there is resistance in them. I do not know what Putin thinks, but the Ukrainian people will not accept the Moscow puppet government in Kiev. If Putin decides to attack, Ukraine will make him pay the price,” the expert assessed.
Baranowski pointed out that “if necessary, Ukraine will fight”. “They don’t expect the West to do it for them, but they rightly expect help – both political and weapons supplies,” he wrote. According to the analyst, Ukraine needs supplies of weapons, and it is particularly important to improve the capabilities of anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense. As he added, it is also important to increase the capabilities of the navy.
“A full-scale armed invasion is not the most likely scenario. Our interlocutors talked about the Kazakh scenario with the Russian fifth column, using internal protests announced for the rest of this week. Another scenario assumes a major cyber attack or a blow to the energy infrastructure,” he explained. According to the expert, “if a military attack were to take place, it would most likely be associated with the Belarusian-Russian military exercises scheduled for February 10-20”.
Putin “hostage to his militaristic rhetoric”
Michał Baranowski also referred to Ukraine’s preparations for a possible conflict. “It is difficult to see hard evidence that the country is fully prepared for a possible conflict. The Ukrainian army is now in much better shape than in 2014, (…) but I did not get the impression that the country as a whole is in a state of increased readiness ” – he wrote.
The expert noted that various messages are reaching Ukrainian society. “On the one hand, the secretary (of the US state Antony – ed.) Blinken warns of an impending conflict, and on the other hand president of Ukraine (Volodymyr Zelensky – ed.) Tries to calm the situation down. We were told that this is so as not to cause panic, but a mixed message results in less readiness “- he assessed.
In the analyst’s opinion, Russian President Vladimir Putin has become “a hostage to his militaristic rhetoric”. “Expectations that the ongoing diplomatic process will lead to a solution to the problem are slim. It will take some time for Putin to find a way to deviate from his escalation logic,” he added.
“How should the West behave towards Russia” – asked the expert. “The biggest heads advise to show strength, unity and determination. We cannot fear this escalation more than Putin – otherwise he will take advantage of it. Showing too much restraint will provoke Putin to escalate further,” he noted.
According to the expert, the West should lay severe sanctions on the table, remain united, not succumbing to Russian pressure, and help Ukraine through the supply of weapons and intelligence.
Main photo source: mil.ru