Russian President Vladimir Putin insists he has no plans to invade Ukraine, but the United States says Moscow could attack “at any moment.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a few days ago that the Kremlin has preparations ready.
“Everyone can see what the potential routes are.”
With around 150,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, experts agree, Russia has several options if you decide to attack.
The Belarus option
If Russia seeks total regime change in Ukraine, an attack from the north is very possible, according to Michael Kofman of the US-based research organization CNA.
Russia has deployed 30,000 soldiers in Belarus for joint military exercises equipped with Iskander short-range missiles and various rocket launchers, as well as Su-25 ground-attack aircraft and Su-35 fighters.
To the east, on Russian soil, “the entire 41st Army of Russia is waiting at the border,” says Kofman.
An advance on Kiev from Belarus can bypass the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
On the Russian side, an attack could come from Novye Yurkovichi and Troebortno, according to Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The route from Crimea
An operation from Crimea is “almost assured” if Russia carries out an invasion, says Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
A ground war would involve “powerful armored columns with concentrated artillery support trying to push rapidly into Ukraine,” according to Barry.
A Russian advance towards Kiev from the Crimea could isolate a large number of Ukrainian troops east of the Dnieper River, he points.
With Russian forces to the west, east, and north, as well as in Crimea, the Ukrainian army would be surrounded.
Russian troops could try to take Kherson and Odessa to the west and Melitopol and Mariupol to the east, creating a land bridge between Crimea and areas controlled by Russian separatists.
A breakthrough could also involve naval forces currently in the Black Sea.
Russian landing ships in the area can deploy troops, armored vehicles and main battle tanks.
An attack from the east
Russian-backed rebels seized large areas in two key regions, Luhansk and Donetsk, in 2014.
It is believed that some 15,000 separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk pcouldn join to the Russian advance.
Ukraine believes that the number is higher.
Russia has some 10,000 soldiers permanently stationed across the border in the Rostov region, and more have recently been added.
If Russia were to attack from the east, it is possible that troops would advance into Crimea, creating a land bridge along Ukraine’s southeastern coast.
They could also get to Kharkiv from Belgorod and then to Kremenchuk.
An attack could be launched from the east just to protect Russian-speakers in rebel-held areas.
Barry points out that even a limited operation could involve bombing air defenses and key military command infrastructure in other parts of the country.
Analysts stress that any Russian advance could involve several routes simultaneously, combined with cyber attacks, disinformation warfare and missile launches.
They also believe that the most limited option for Russia could be to launch major cyberattacks in Ukraine with the aim of crippling key infrastructure without taking territory.
In the end, Kofman says, the exact details of any attack will depend on Moscow’s political goals.
And, the latter, remain unclear.
Graphics by Prina Shah and Zoe Bartholomew
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