Troop building on the border with Ukraine: is Russia planning an invasion or is it bluff?

If Russia invades Ukraine, how do you prepare for that as a citizen? The Ukrainian news site Babel has prepared an extensive list of tips for that. Learn first aid and look up shelters nearby, can be read in the article.

Earlier this month, US intelligence agencies warned that Moscow may be preparing an invasion. That would also be evident from satellite images. At the border, nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers would have been stationed and plans for a raid would be underway. Intelligence agencies in Ukraine also raised the alarm.

NATO discussed tensions today at a summit in Latvia. Ukraine is not a member state of the military alliance, but has been supported by the alliance in recent years and hopes to join one day. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke clear language towards Moscow: โ€œRussia will pay a high price if they use force again against independent Ukraine.โ€

But according to the Kremlin, the allegations are nonsense. Not Russia, but the West is guilty of provocations – including by sending weapons to Ukraine. President Putin warned NATO this afternoon not to cross a ‘red line’, such as sending additional soldiers to Ukraine.

Seven years of battle, thousands of victims

What is clear: for Ukrainians, the Russian threat is real. Since 2014, the country has been involved in a battle with Russian-backed separatists in the east. In addition, more than 14,000 people have died. Crimea was also annexed in the wake of the Maidan revolution. Since then, Russia has repeatedly gathered troops along the border with Ukraine.

โ€œOf course, we are concerned,โ€ says Ukrainian journalist Olga Tokaryuk. In a widely shared opinion piece, she wrote that Ukraine will defend itself with man and power if Russia invades. โ€œEven though not everyone wants to admit it, people are anxious here. Russia has now sent so many soldiers to the border.โ€

Tokarjuk also points to the large amount of weapons and military hospitals that have appeared along the border – which, according to her, is further proof that it is not just a military exercise. Ukrainians take into account that an invasion can happen just like that.

Whether Russia is really considering military action in Ukraine is impossible to tell, says Clingendael‘s defence expert Dick Zandee. โ€œRussia also doesn’t want us to know that, because that‘s how they can put maximum pressure with their force.โ€ Above all, the Kremlin wants to prevent Ukraine from seeking further rapprochement with the West and can use this threat at the negotiating table.

International experts are not convinced that Russia is really going to make a large-scale invasion in the short term. The force is not big enough for that, says Zandee. โ€œIf Russia does cross the border, it will be for a limited military objective.โ€ Although, according to him, the current situation can easily escalate.

Journalist Tokaryuk hopes that Ukraine will in that case be supported by the West – with weapons and sanctions. โ€œNATO should clarify the consequences for Russia if it proceeds to a raid. That may deter Russia. I hope for that, although I don’t see any signs that this is going to happen yet.โ€