Ukraine crisis: Five key questions as Russian forces tipped to start war in Europe

As fears of an imminent Russian invasion on Ukraine grow increasingly more likely – Defense and Security Editor Chris Hughes analyzes and answers questions on the ongoing crisis situation

Boris Johnson outlines NATO support for Ukraine against Russia

Ukraine is on the brink of war with Russian forces surrounding the nation on several sides.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has called for a meeting with Russia and other key members of the European security group over escalating tensions at the country’s border.

Mr Kuleba says Russia has ignored all formal requests to validate the reason for the build-up of forces at the border.

Despite the military action, Russia has continued to deny plans to invade Ukraine, while calling on Nato to refuse the nation’s membership in the body.

Now experts and leaders have said war is almost inevitable with the world preparing for the terrible bloodshed which could result from this conflict.

WHY DO WESTERN LEADERS THINK PUTIN WILL ORDER AN ATTACK?

The biggest argument against the idea of ​​an attack is that it is almost impossible to see what Putin will gain from it as it will cost him and Russia very dear – in terms of lives, money and reputation globally.

Of course, he may after many bloody months subjugate Ukraine but having met many local troops and armed citizens in recent weeks, it is hard to imagine.

Nevertheless, intelligence agencies believe an attack is now very likely – mainly because troop and machinery movements towards Ukraine mirror pre-invasion planning.

Putin does not need attack helicopters up close to the border for an “exercise”, nor does he need so much artillery and tanks, mobilizing almost a quarter of a million troops.

Western leaders believe Putin will order an attack on Ukraine soon
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HANDOUT/Russian Defense Ministry/AFP via Getty Images)

This is costing Russia billions of pounds – so there is every indication an attack is coming and then there are the constant intelligence leaks, aimed deliberately at making Putin suspect he has an insider in the Kremlin or in his armed forces.

It is unlikely the CIA and NSA would leak intelligence like that unless the situation is dire.

WHAT FORM WILL TAKE AN ATTACK?

For weeks we were being told that a partial invasion might take place in the east of Ukraine, perhaps forming a land bridge between Crimea and Donbas, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting Ukraine troops, backed by Russian forces.

But now senior sources believe it is entirely possible, given the sheer weight of numbers of troops and material Putin is throwing at this build-up, that he wants to go all the way to Kyiv.

Moscow could attack from Belarus to the north, Russia, to the east and from the sea in the south and roar all the way to Kyiv at lightning speed.

But they know that Ukraine’s troops are armed with tank-killer NLAW missiles and are incredibly well-motivated.

Ukrainian soldiers out on the streets of Kyiv
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Image:

Andy Commins)

Ukraine’s troops intend to let Russia in and then launch ferocious guerrilla-style attacks, smashing their supply lines, flanking them and destroying their supply lines, hoping to demolish morale.

If Russian tanks get to Kyiv they cannot enter the city as that kind of urban warfare could take months.

Moscow military doctrine is about speed and dodging around big targets like cities – but they could easily get cut off and this may be why Putin’s commanders are still preparing.

This could play very badly back home for Putin if body bags start being sent back.

Or it could still be a partial invasion, costing little in lives and making a gesture whilst pretending to protect pro-Russian separatists in the east.

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EPN/Newscom/Avalon)

WHEN WILL THE ATTACK HAPPEN?

This is the most telegraphed invasion apparently ever and the American CIA believes it will happen on Wednesday or sooner, so we probably have just hours before war hits Europe yet again.

Ukrainian soldiers undertaking combat training in a district of Chernihiv
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EPN/Newscom/Avalon)

Nevertheless, Putin is an arch strategist and this could be the biggest demonstration of brinkmanship ever – with him being offered the chance to save face, perhaps have a minor victory or gain and then stand his troops down.

But whilst this is unlikely because Putin will not want to look weak back home.

He cares little about what the west thinks of him.

This is only about what Russia thinks of him so he badly needs a victory with as few costs and consequences as possible.

It is very hard to see a way out for him without giving the go-ahead now for an invasion.

HOW CAN WAR BE AVOIDED?

Only one man needs persuading and that is Putin. He has to be offered an exit from the corner he has backed himself into. NATO will not give in to his insistence on controlling Russia’s neighbors and their future desire to join NATO so it is possible his price will always be too high to avoid war in Ukraine.

US military vehicles are seen at the military base for US troops being established at the Mielec Airport, Poland
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Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto)

But anything is possible and western leaders have to give him something so that he can save face.

Whether that will ever be enough, the next few hours and days will tell.

But the tragedy is that a lot of Russians and Ukrainians could be about to die because of his wish to build Russian power and an amazing country could soon be left in ruins.

COULD A RUSSIAN INVASION OF UKRAINE LEAD TO WORLD WAR THREE?

Russian President Vladimir Putin
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ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

A conflict in Ukraine could go on for a long time and it would inevitably become a proxy war with the west supplying Ukraine with arms and supplies and Russia’s allies doing the same.

And a proxy was so close to the UK could drag countries like ours further in. It is a big concern of western leaders and would be difficult to contain – especially if Russia becomes increasingly belligerent and Putin remains in power.

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