Despite Russia’s much-ballyhooed withdrawal of its land forces from the Ukrainian border, the threat of a major Russian military operation against Ukraine and the West more broadly has not disappeared, Pavel Felgengauer says. Not only can the troops quickly be turned around, but Russian naval and air power is still in position for an attack.
In an interview taken by Rosbalt journalist Aleksandr Zhelenin, the independent Moscow military analyst says that not only is there a continuing threat against Ukraine but there is also a very real danger that any Russian military actions there could lead to a broader war between Moscow and NATO countries (rosbalt.ru/world/2021/04/28/1899640.html).
Indeed, Felgengauer continues, recent statements by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggest that Moscow blames the West for Ukraine’s standing up to Moscow and therefore part of the problem any new aggression against Ukraine would be designed to eliminate.
Many who see Russia’s withdrawal of forces from near the Ukrainian border as a turning point forget, the military analyst says, that Moscow did exactly the same thing in 2008 in the North Caucasus. It staged exercises, withdrew its troops a short distance, and then turned them around to invade Georgia.
Felgengauer says he is not in a position to give probabilities about a new war but in his view, “the most dangerous” time during which such a war could begin will be “the second half of May.” If NATO backs Ukraine, and Russia attacks NATO aircraft or ships, there is a chance that there could be “an escalation all the way up to nuclear war.”
Both the buildup in Russian naval forces in occupied Crimea and in the Black Sea suggest that part of such a Russian offensive would be a landing operation near Odesa and Mykolaiv. Even without reinforcements, Moscow has the capacity to land some 10,000 marines in this location.
But as large a force as that is, he continues, the major line of Russian attack will be from the north, from Belgorod, Bryansk, and Voronezh oblasts in order to exploit what Moscow sees as weaknesses in Ukraine’s right flank. The Russian military can send in three armies along that axis, two of which are guards’ units.
Their task will be to “surround on three sides and then destroy the Ukrainian army,” an action that recalls what happened in the Ilovaisk district in 2014 but at a much larger scale. The Ukrainian army is better prepared than it was seven years ago, but it is “not very prepared for the mobile war” the Russians have planned.
Felgengauer concludes by repeating that
“the threat of war seems to [him] very serious. However, at any stage of the conflict, its de-escalation via direct negotiations is possible. Nobody seriously wants to cross the nuclear threshold.”
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