Military maneuvers show that Russia is ready to invade Ukraine

It has been 12 months of posturing and now there is a sure sign that last minute preparations for the invasion are well underway.

For months, the world has been watching Russia mass troops and tanks on its borders with Ukraine. Is it a bluff? Is it a political corner? Or will President Vladimir Putin invade? Here are the clues to look for.

War is a complex thing.

Main battle tanks. Artillery. Hit the jets. These are just the tip of the spear. An extensive support network must be in place to be effective. Without it, they are toothless tigers.

Moscow managed to slip such a mobilization under the radar. The bulk of the force was left in place after the scheduled “war games” early last year. All it took was a last-minute ramp-up of specialist gear.

It is well and truly underway.

Almost everything is in place, from ammo racks to grave-digging units.

Now, according to the Snowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, it’s about monitoring cyberattacks, “snapshot” military drills and non-combatant evacuations. Not to mention the distracting diplomatic crises elsewhere.

The pace of new cyberattacks in Ukraine began to pick up last week.

Russia has announced unforeseen “war games” in neighboring and subjugated Belarus.

On Sunday, the United States ordered many of its embassy staff in Kyiv to evacuate.

And dissent was well and truly trapped among its NATO opponents.

War: the difference between games and reality

Moscow’s military presence near Ukraine has been worrying for nearly 12 months. Nearly a quarter of its tanks, artillery and front-line armored vehicles lay idle in open-air dispersal camps. Tens of thousands of soldiers did not return home after the end of the maneuvers.

It was an intimidating act. But not deadly.

The non-partisan US think tank Atlantic Council said it was a “threatening force, of course”. But it was not a perfectly balanced force capable of conducting sustained, high-intensity warfare.

“Russia had not deployed crucial combat platforms and enabling capabilities and units, including modern fighters and air defense systems; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and electronic warfare systems; and logistics and combat support capabilities and units,” Lt. Col. Tyson Wetzel told the Atlantic Council.

But, over the past week, Moscow has suddenly started to put those missing pieces in place.

It turned out to be a job he could do relatively quickly. And that’s why his invasion intentions came as such a surprise.

The Russian military is primed and ready, “putting in place the conditions to execute a multi-domain attack on Ukraine should that be Putin’s decision,” the Atlantic Council said.

But he still has one last thing to do.

“Russia is going to have to pull reservists out of civilian life if it really wants to invade and occupy all or most of Ukraine,” Colonel John Barranco said. “It’s going to have an economic impact and cause public discontent, so it’s unlikely that Moscow will do it unless it’s serious.”

Instant War Games

Unexpected military maneuvers have long been a mask of invasion. This is why modern international conventions require that they be indeed telegraphed in advance.

International agreements limit their size and frequency.

But these were thrown to the wind in Eastern Europe.

Russia and Belarus announced a full-scale war game named Allied Resolve 2022 last week. It was to begin immediately.

“This type of exercise can serve two major purposes,” notes the Atlantic Council. “First, it provides cover for Russia to deploy high-end military capabilities in the region. Second, the exercise, scheduled for February 10-20, provides Russia with an opportunity to conduct operational rehearsal.

Russia’s most prominent weapons are now in place. Squadrons of modern Su-35 attack aircraft were moved to the area. Just like its most advanced air defense weapons – S-400 long-range missiles and Pantasir-S1 point defense systems.

But above all, he offers “plausible deniability” to his army to advance.

Tanks and troops are seen taking position just 20 km from the Ukrainian border. And Belarusian territory offers a shorter and more direct route for tanks to reach Kiev.

“This exercise is the type of cover action I would plan if I was looking to execute a large-scale military operation,” Lt. Col. Tyson Wetzel told the council.

But there is also an element of parade in Moscow’s behavior.

Moving vulnerable amphibious assault ships from the Barents Sea and the Baltic Sea makes no sense. It would be easier to move the equipment by rail. But the highly publicized presence of such ships is an age-old act of “gunboat diplomacy.” It could also be a distraction, designed to cause Ukraine to split its forces to defend its coast.

External influences

Winter fighting in Europe will be cold. But it’s not particularly difficult.

The ground is hard with ice. Trees and foliage have largely lost their cover. But bad weather will be a problem.

“Russia will want favorable weather conditions to move around heavy armor, so we should look for weather reports that show the ground is completely frozen and a good range of sub-zero temperatures,” says Colonel Benjamin Johnson. “Weather conditions in Ukraine are not optimal for a Russian ground attack with heavy forces right now, and there is a short window before the normal March thaw.

He also believes Moscow has not deployed enough medical units to be serious about a fight.

“There have been sporadic reports of Russian field hospitals, but we should look for reports that they are fully staffed with medical staff,” Colonel Johnson says. “If he intends to attack Ukraine with heavy force, the presence of large quantities of medical equipment and mobile field hospitals will be an indicator. Field ambulances are easy to identify thanks to the crosses red.

The calm before the storm

“Has Russia lost the element of surprise, or are its current moves an attempt to preserve it?” asks Commander Daniel Vardiman. “Any military strategist knows how essential the element of surprise is to success. If you have no surprises, then the only substitute is overwhelming odds. And Russia has neither.

But he gave President Putin a megaphone to broadcast his program.

Not that it makes sense: NATO’s constitution is purely defensive. Participating nations must apply voluntarily.

And the reason ex-Soviet states such as Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine are asking for admission is Moscow’s aggressive behavior.

After all, he invaded Georgia, seized Crimea and sent troops to help the insurgents inside Ukraine.

“Since Russia invaded Ukraine eight years ago and occupied almost 7% of its territory, Ukraine has benefited from billions of dollars in American military aid and is much better prepared than it is. was on a Russian offensive,” Colonel Barranco said. “Russia knows all this. Yet rather than try to quietly engage in a military build-up and regain an element of surprise, he telegraphs everyone that he plans to launch a tough mid-winter offensive that risks his forces mechanized vehicles get bogged down in a March thaw if they don’t. get quick success.

There’s an old military adage that goes something like, “An army is like a bayonet: you can do anything with it, except sit on it.”

Mobilized armies are expensive. Their appetite for food, fuel, spare parts is enormous.

But it is above all a question of morale. The longer they remain on alert, the more the troops think. They may begin to doubt. They can start guessing their commands. They will think more and more about what is happening at home.

And an authoritarian strongman like Putin cannot have that.

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

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