CDR (ret.) Eyal Pinko, Ph.D.
Will Russia launch a campaign against Ukraine in the coming days?
The German newspaper, "Der Spiegel," has published satellite images in recent days, showing a concentration of Russian forces off the coast of the Black Sea island of Crimea and on the borderline between Ukraine and Russia.
The photos show that the Russian military concentrates many forces, building fortifications and a center in the border area with Ukraine.
According to U.S. press reports, Russia has concentrated on the border with Ukraine more than 40,000 troops and another 40,000 troops on the Crimean island. According to Ukrainian security officials, Russia has advanced more than 110,000 soldiers along the border with Ukraine.
According to "Der Spiegel," Russia plans to invade Ukraine in the coming days.
Russian weapon systems' capabilities enable the Russian military to close off the aerial and maritime domains in the Black Sea, disrupt potential maneuvering of the U.S and NATO forces into the areas, and influence possible U.S and NATO military involvement if a military campaign occurs.
While the accumulation of forces in the region, Russia announced in an unusual move the closure of its maritime territories in the Black Sea. Russia even threatened that any vessel passing through these territories, whether civilian or military, would be arrested or harmed.
The implication of the Russian declaration of the maritime territories closure is that all the Ukrainian Black Sea and the Sea of Azov ports are under a naval blockade. Russian warships began to arrive from the Baltic Sea and the Caspian Sea to reinforce the Black Sea Fleet.
In addition to the force accumulation on the Ukrainian border, Russia has also begun with influence campaigns and psychological warfare efforts. Russia has started publishing materials against Ukraine on the media and social media channels, including calling the Ukrainian administration "The Nazi regime."
Influence campaign efforts are directed towards the population in Russia and create legitimacy for a future campaign. Other efforts are directed towards the people in Ukraine, especially towards those that support Russia.
It is likely that along with the Russian psychological warfare efforts, Russia is also launching a cyber-campaign, including intelligence gathering and cyber-attacks against national infrastructures in Ukraine, as it did in the previous campaign between the countries attacking Ukraine's power grid system.
Russia's military moves at this time were intended to realize a territorial continuity between the Crimean island and Russia.
The island of Crimea, which has been under Russian control since 2014, is isolated within the territory of Ukraine. Following the previous campaign between the two countries, an agreement was signed between them, known as the "Minsk Agreement," according to which Ukraine undertakes to transfer the territories between the Crimean island and Russia to Russian control. Since the agreement signed in 2015, Ukraine has not acted to implement it, and the territories remain under its control.
Another possible explanation for Russia's military moves is its desire to halt the rapprochement between Ukraine and the United States, NATO, and Europe, equipping Ukraine with their best weapon systems and threatening Russia.
The United States helps Ukraine on several levels. On the one hand, military, political and economic support, and on the other, the United States imposes economic sanctions on Russia.
In this context, the U.S. State Department announced in April 2021 the tightening of economic sanctions on Russia, adding to its blacklist five Russian oligarchs and three Russian companies that took part as partners in Russia's aggressive political moves in Crimea island and Ukraine.
In recent weeks, the United States has also begun to accumulate military forces in the Black Sea, and U.S. Navy warships have entered the Black Sea and are waiting for a command day while conducting war exercises with NATO countries in the region, including Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania.
Contrary to the opinion of the German newspaper "Der Spiegel," United States government officials estimate that despite the Russian threat to Ukraine, Russia does not intend to make military moves and invade Ukraine. Nevertheless, the United States government officials have already announced that the Russian actions endanger Ukraine and NATO countries, and the United States is ready to respond to any Russian military move.
In response to Russia's moves, U.S. President Joe Biden called Russian President Putin a "killer" and called for a joint meeting "to ease tensions in the region." The Ukrainian president described Russia's moves as "financial terrorism" and noted that Russia's moves affect the whole of Europe and not just Ukraine. The United States, NATO, Germany, and France condemned the Russian moves, calling on Putin to withdraw his forces.