Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Ukraine is in anticipation of large-scale hostilities from Russia


The end of March - the beginning of April was marked by a sharp escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The Russian Federation began to actively dispatch its troops to the border with Ukraine under the pretext of military exercises. The build-up of troops is taking place in the North-Eastern and Eastern directions, as well as in the occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and in the waters of the Azov and Black Seas. In addition, videos of Russian vehicles advancing in the Ukrainian direction through Belarus and Transnistria periodically appeared on the Internet. The increase in military presence near Ukraine was accompanied by aggressive rhetoric and accusations against Ukraine of alleged militaristic sentiments and intentions to forcibly retake the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The information campaign against Ukraine has gained a momentum since February. The systematic accusations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in violation of the ceasefire regime were followed by the April fake about «The Crucified Boy – 2». On April 3, 2021, the militants of the «People's Militia of the DPR» issued an «emergency statement» in which they accused the Ukrainian military of using a drone «equipped with an improvised explosive device». The statement declared that «dropping of an explosive device near the house» on the territory controlled by the occupiers - in the village of Oleksandrivske in the Donetsk region – «led to the death of a child born in 2016 and the injury of a woman born in 1954». The volunteer project StopFake and the «Radio Liberty» project «Donbas Realii» conducted their own investigation, analyzed the messages of residents in local online communities in social networks and denied the occupants' statement. After contacting local residents, volunteers and journalists found out that the boy had really died, but not from a drone, but because of the ammunition brought and kept at home by the boy's relative.[1] Despite this investigation, the fake about the boy was actively disseminated not only on Russian channels, but also in the Ukrainian media. In particular, by the Ukrainian online media «Strana» and pro-Russian deputies from Viktor Medvedchuk party «OPFL».

Also, the Kremlin resorted to manipulation when Dmitry Peskov admitted the possibility of a repetition of the tragedy in Srebrenica in the event of a resumption of full-scale hostilities in the Donbas. D. Peskov added that in case of aggravation «Russia will not stand aside». These words are actually identical to Putin's February phrase «Russia will not abandon Donbas». Such rhetoric clearly shows the attitude of the Kremlin to Minsk process and the peace settlement in Donbas in general. Even if the Minsk agreements are implemented, Russia will not withdraw its troops from Donbas.

According to the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Ruslan Khomchak, Russia is spreading reports of Ukraine's aggressive intentions to discredit Ukraine in the international arena and to create panic among the population of the occupied territories. The commander-in-chief denied information about intentions to return Donbas by force. In fact, the entire leadership of Ukraine has confirmed the course towards resolving the conflict exclusively in a diplomatic way. The statements of the Ukrainian representatives are followed by actions of the Ukrainian side trying to achieve de-escalation in bilateral and multilateral formats. In particular, Ukraine initiated a meeting within the OSCE and tried to organize negotiations in the Normandy format. However, the Kremlin refused to take steps to further de-escalation. According to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, as of April 12, Russia has already sent 16 battalion tactical groups from motorized infantry, tank and airborne units to the borders of Ukraine and the occupied Crimea. Subsequently, it was reported about the departure of 15 ships of the Caspian flotilla of the Russian Federation from the Caspian to the Black Sea for training with the Black Sea Fleet.

Ukraine's top military leadership has no illusions about the Kremlin's real intentions. In a conversation with the French ambassador, Defense Minister Andriy Taran said that Ukraine cannot afford to underestimate the situation and said that Russia is able to plan the 2008 Georgian scenario for Ukraine. Provocations can be used to accuse the Armed Forces of Ukraine of attacking civilians, especially since more than 400,000 people have been issued Russian passports in the occupied territories.[2] Russia acted in a same way in Georgia in 2008, starting the certification of the population of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which later grew into armed «protection of its citizens». In fact, the Russian Federation has now created an advance group for launching a full-scale offensive deep into Ukrainian territory.

The aggressive policy of the Kremlin was the impetus for the active involvement of the United States of America. In particular, President Zelenskyy's first telephone conversation with Joe Biden and several conversations between Anthony Blinken and Dmytro Kuleba were held, including a face-to-face meeting in Brussels. An important signal came from the assurances of the US Secretary of Defense that the United States will not leave Ukraine alone. In confirmation of this, on March 31, an aircraft carrier strike group of the US Navy, led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, entered the eastern Mediterranean. It was noted that the overall purpose of the strike group's arrival was to demonstrate the US determination to defend peace in the region. A specific goal - the strike group of the US Navy aimed to practice their actions to protect several «theaters of operation», or adjacent waters, including - and the Black Sea.[3] In addition, missile destroyers «Donald Cook» and «Roosevelt» were sent towards the Black Sea, although later, despite threats from the Russian side, they did not dare to enter the Black Sea. In addition, during the build-up of the Russian military contingent around the Ukrainian border, several flights of military transport aircraft of the US Air Force were made to Ukraine.

At the same time, Joe Biden had a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin, during which he called for the de-escalation of the situation near the Ukrainian border and offered to meet this summer. Despite some optimism and hopes for the possibility of de-escalation, which appeared in expert circles after the conversation between the two presidents, at this stage we should not expect a real change in the Kremlin's intentions to launch large-scale hostilities against Ukraine. Maneuvers of such a large number of military forces require significant costs, so Russia's goal is not just to demonstrate force, but to achieve its own foreign policy goals. Among the possible tasks set by the Kremlin can be to force Ukraine to implement the «special status» of Donbas and federalize the state, or to force the opening of the Crimean canal, or the complete elimination of Ukrainian statehood, what Russian leaders have mentioned repeatedly in recent months.

Therefore, despite the agreement on organizing a meeting between the presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation, in the near future we can expect provocations from the Kremlin and search for the Casus Belli for further invasion of the territory of Ukraine. In the current situation, Ukraine needs the real support from Western countries in the form of arms supplies for defense, increasing pressure on the Russian Federation by imposing new sanctions and providing guarantees of protection in the event of an invasion by regular Russian armed forces.