Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Misinformation or the next stage of Russia’s preparation for a full-scale war?


The possibility of a full-scale invasion by Russian Federation became the main topic of early November. Against the background of the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, this issue was overshadowed, but the build-up of forces and the scale of pressure on Ukraine from the Russian Federation did not diminish. The military component is supported by economic and information-psychological influence on Ukraine with the aim of further destabilization from within and approaching the stage of the armed forces use. In parallel with the movement of troops, it was announced that the supply of coal to Ukraine will be suspended from November 1, 2021. According to the Ministry of Economy of the Russian Federation, in the first nine months of 2021, Ukraine imported 10.3 million tons of coal from Russia. This accounts for about a third of the country's total consumption since the beginning of this year.[1] This decision of the Russian leadership deals a significant blow to the energy sector of Ukraine and threatens stable heat and electricity supply, as well as operation of thermal power plants, combined heat and power plants, nuclear power plants and other industrial facilities. Although President Volodymyr Zelenskyy assured citizens in his video address that the state had prepared nuclear energy and purchased enough coal, so there would be no light or heat outrage, however such a possibility exists. In addition, Russia is cutting gas transit through the territory of Ukraine and in the future may completely stop it, supplying blue fuel to Europe through Nord Stream 2, which is undergoing a certification stage. The energy and economic aggression of Russia creates the basis for the destabilization of Ukraine and, in accordance with the principles set forth in 2013 by the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Valery Gerasimov, the subsequent use of armed force.

The first reports about the unusual activity of the Russian armed forces and their concentration near Ukraine appeared in the most authoritative American media: Washington Post (October 30), Financial Times, Bloomberg. The Ukrainian authorities reacted strangely to the reports and called it a disinformation. Amid warnings from European and American media, officials and their intelligence agencies, Ukraine's initial reaction was unclear and coincided with the rhetoric of Russian officials. Probably, the current Ukrainian administration was conducting back-channel negotiations with the Russian side on a potential meeting of heads of states in the Normandy format and, wishing to avoid escalation, tried to delay the reaction to Russian movements. Further, based on the analysis of satellite images, an expert of the Washington Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) Michael Kofman wrote that the Russian 41st Combined Arms Army, after the completion of the Russian-Belarusian exercises in September, did not return to its place of deployment, but took up positions near the border with Ukraine. On November 1, the Politico published satellite images of the area near the village of Yelnya in the Smolensk region, directly bordering the Republic of Belarus showing massive concentration of Russian troops.[1]

Thus, the build-up of Russian military is taking place both in the Ukrainian and Belarusian directions. Taking advantage of the weakening of Lukashenka’s power, Vladimir Putin is trying to put the squeeze on the illegitimate president for the Anschluss of Belarus and complete the final formation of the Union State. This situation creates additional threats for Ukraine in a form of 1,084 kilometers of additional border with the aggressor country. Alexander Lukashenko is already openly speaking about his desire to place Russian S-400 systems and Iskander missile systems near the Ukrainian border. Lukashenko, who is losing control over Belarus, will no longer decide how to use this weapon. The maximum that he can count on is to rule the country as part of the Western Military District of the Russian Federation and carry out orders from Moscow. It is less than 100 km from the Belarusian border to Chernihiv and less than 200 km to Kyiv. By imposing sanctions on the Belarusian dictator, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine left Lukashenko without the opportunity to maintain a certain autonomy from Moscow and now their task should be to ensure the security of the North of Ukraine, the Baltic countries and Poland from a possible Putin's blitzkrieg.

The first strategic echelon is being built up along the Smolensk-Bryansk-Kursk-Belgorod line for a further offensive. The 4th Panzer Division of Russia, equipped with T-80U tanks and 2S1 «Gvozdika», 2S19 «Msta» self-propelled howitzers, was moved to the areas near Bryansk and Kursk. The American think tank CSIS also released images showing infantry fighting vehicles, BM-21 multiple launch rocket systems, TOS-1 heavy flamethrower systems, Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems, towed artillery, anti-aircraft missiles and vehicles. In addition to already mentioned 41st Combined Arms Army, which, after the West-2021 maneuvers, did not return to its place of permanent deployment in Novosibirsk and is now located in Pogonovo, near Voronezh, Russia redeployed the 1st Elite Guards Tank Army from the Moscow Region to Yelnya, which is a formation having offensive functions.

The number of troops in Crimea is also growing. According to Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant General Serhiy Nayev, up to six battalion tactical groups from the 58th Army of the Southern Military District and the Airborne Troops of the Russian Armed Forces remained on the occupied peninsula after West 2021. A new 56th Airborne Assault Regiment is now being formed from among additional paratroopers in Feodosia.[3]

In October, the Russian Federation cut off the channels of communication with the North Atlantic Alliance. The military build-up, given the absence of direct dialogue and sabotage of the Minsk agreements by the Russian Federation, as well as the refusal to hold a summit in the Normandy format as a whole, has caused concern among NATO member states. In addition, in contrast to the spring movements of troops, in November the redeployment took place covertly. Therefore, the US administration has made efforts to establish a dialogue. CIA Chairman William Burns was immediately delegated to Moscow to determine the Kremlin's true intentions. This was followed by a series of bilateral consultations between the US, Ukraine, the EU and the UK. The media reported that the United States first warned Ukraine and then its European allies about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This provoked a reaction, even from traditionally restrained France. First at the ministerial level, and then Emmanuel Macron himself, he warned Vladimir Putin about the serious consequences of such actions. On 15 November, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba paid a working visit to Brussels to discuss the situation with the representatives of EU member states, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Sweden, France and Germany. After meeting with his German and French counterparts, Dmitry Kuleba explained Macron's position that the European Union intended to tighten sanctions in the event of a full-scale Russian attack.

The United States and Great Britain took a decisive position. The United States sent a USS Porter destroyer to the Black Sea as part of a routine patrol. Then a large US Navy tanker USNS «John Lenthall» entered the Black Sea, as well as the flagship of the US Navy's Sixth Fleet USS «Mount Whitney». The United States and the United Kingdom also continue to carry out aerial and space surveillance using planes and satellites. A US Navy P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine patrol aircraft, a US Air Force Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft, a Boeing RC-135 British reconnaissance aircraft, and a British Air Force U-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft were spotted near the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Krasnodar Krai. According to the British newspaper The Mirror, Great Britain is creating a force consisting of the Special Air Service (SAS) members, a special reconnaissance regiment, medics, engineers, signalmen and up to 400 paratroopers from the 16th Airborne Assault Brigade, and is ready to quickly send 600 of its troops to the territory of Ukraine.[4] It is worth noting that this information has not yet been confirmed by the leadership of the United Kingdom, or more reliable media. Boris Johnson, however, after information about the possible deployment of the British contingent in Ukraine, appealed to European countries that they will soon have to choose between Russian hydrocarbons or to back Ukraine, peace and stability.

So far, Partner countries have supported Ukraine and strongly opposed Russian action on NATO's eastern flank. Potentially, the Kremlin's maneuvers could escalate into a military offensive against Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states, as the Alliance's existing forces, concentrated in the Baltic-Black Sea region, are not enough to repel a possible attack. This view is shared by experts from leading American and European think tanks and acknowledged by representatives of the military command of leading NATO member states. Increasing the presence of NATO troops in the Baltic-Black Sea region should be seen as an adequate response that could adjust the balance of power and force Russia to abandon plans to seize the territory of neighboring states. According to the Financial Times, Russia may launch a full-scale attack on Ukraine this winter. The north and the capital of Ukraine with the Anschluss of Belarus are becoming much more vulnerable. The Kyiv direction is of paramount importance in the context of Ukraine's defense, and therefore requires strengthening against the background of the threat posed by Russia's offensive echelon. NATO's response in the form of Jens Stoltenberg's statement at NATO Talk 2021 on the possible deployment of American nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe is a strong signal to Russia. However, in order to protect the countries of the region from Russian invasion, these states need an expanded presence of NATO member states' conventional forces on the ground.