Posted by on January 14, 2022 5:09 pm
Categories: News Washington Examiner

Russian military ready ‘right now’ to attack Ukraine and divide NATO

A Russian tank T-72B3 fires as troops take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Russia has rejected Western complaints about its troop buildup near Ukraine, saying it deploys them wherever it deems necessary on its own territory. (AP Photo) AP

Russian military ready ‘right now’ to attack Ukraine and divide NATO

Joel Gehrke January 14, 04:48 PMJanuary 14, 04:55 PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military forces are ready to conduct an assault on Ukraine at any moment, according to U.S. lawmakers and observers, and his choice of target could expose a deep rift within NATO and the European Union.

“From my understanding, they are likely pretty close to what they need,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez told the Washington Examiner this week. “They have a very good foundation for what they might want to do. I’m not saying that it’s absolute yet, but it’s a very good foundation.”

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Senior U.S. officials surmise Putin “may not even know yet” what he wants to do. Yet, the size and posture of the Russian forces around Ukraine raise the grim likelihood Putin is considering a plan to crack the trans-Atlantic alliance. However, it wouldn’t be through a full-scale conquest of Ukraine, but rather a “creeping incrementalism” that might buckle Ukrainian defenses while exploiting Western Europe’s desire to avoid confrontation.

“The forces that he has there, those forces are absolutely capable of several options that he can execute to bring great pressure on Ukraine and great pressure on the West,” retired four-star Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander when Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, told the Washington Examiner.


Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged the United States would impose major new economic sanctions on Russia in the event of another invasion of Ukraine. Menendez has tried to buttress that threat by unveiling legislation he considers “the mother-of-all-sanctions.”

Yet, Breedlove and other analysts suspect Putin will conduct a smaller-scale attack tailored to provoke disagreement between Western allies about whether to carry out such a dramatic act of retaliation.

Putin’s recent success in bringing Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko back under his thumb could enable Russian forces to take up positions on the border of Belarus and Ukraine — all the way across the country from the Donbas region where most of Ukraine’s best military units have been fighting Russian-controlled forces but less than a few hours from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office in Kyiv.

“If [Putin’s] whole goal is just to displace the Zelensky government, that might be a good move,” he said. “It’d be like [if] the Russians parked in central Virginia, facing Washington … The bottom line is, you want to bring great pressure on Zelensky, put an invading force a couple of hours away from [the Ukrainian] capital with no military between you and it.”

That tactic would allow Putin to increase military pressure without incurring Russian casualties, Breedlove notes, but it’s not the only option to carry that advantage. Putin’s long-standing control of the Donbas region of Ukraine — the scene of a conflict the Kremlin insists on describing as a “civil war” — paves the way for a provocative show of Russian force within Ukraine’s international borders. From there, if Putin remained unsatisfied, Russian forces could move south along the Sea of Azov, carving out of the coastal region a “land bridge” between Russia and the annexed peninsula of Crimea.

“What is important, in that possible option, is that Mariupol is only about 40 kilometers from the current line of contact,” Breedlove said, referring to one of the most important Ukrainian port cities. “I do not think they would go into Mariupol because urban warfare sucks up forces at a great rate. But if they simply encircle and cut off Mariupol and take the water reservoirs that link to Crimea, that’s a big deal.”

Other observers expect more bloodshed.

“I don’t see a way out of this, where there isn’t some violence,” said Center for European Policy Analysis President Alina Polyakova on Friday during a public event. “Again, we need to think about what is the threshold that we’re going to that’s going to trigger the consequences that we have been warning the Kremlin with, and that is I think the next step.”

That threshold could be difficult to identify, given the web of economic relationships connecting Russia to Western Europe.

“The danger is that if we all talk about the [idea] that Russia going to invade and take over the entire state of Ukraine, and then the Russians only take part of Ukraine, then those people who are afraid of being firm with Russia,” Dr. Evelyn Farkas, the Pentagon’s lead official for Russia and Ukraine during the 2014 crisis, told the Washington Examiner. ”They may be inclined to let Russia get away with it by not taking a strong enough stance against what Russia’s done.”

That impulse seems especially strong in German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has vowed not to activate the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the event of a Russian invasion, but her Green Party is a junior partner in Germany’s coalition government and Scholz’s allies disagree with her.

“We need to solve this conflict, and we need to solve it in talks — that’s the opportunity that we have at the moment, and we should use it rather than draw a link to projects that have no connection to this conflict,” said German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht on Thursday.

That statement drew a prompt refutation from European Union high representative Josep Borrell. Still, Lambrecht’s instinct to take some punishments off the table suggests the difficulty U.S. officials will face in convincing European allies to retaliate against a limited Russian assault.

“A lot of people mostly fear that creeping incrementalism, whereby, craftily, Putin applies military power … just below the threshold of broad reply,” Breedlove said. “And his whole goal would be to divide the alliance.”


Whatever happens next, it won’t be for lack of options in the Kremlin.

“I think that, depending on the ultimate mission, they certainly could do a lot of damage right now,” Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the Washington Examiner. “Whether they could maintain control in the areas where they could do incursions is another story, but they have quite a bit of capacity.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

Originally appeared at Washington Examiner

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