Russia seems to be preparing to invade Ukraine but it's not clear whether Putin will go through with it

Russia seems to be preparing to invade Ukraine but it's not clear whether Putin will go through with it
Russian President Vladimir Putin.Aleksey Nikolskyi/AP
  • Putin has ordered thousands of troops to the Russian border with Ukraine and mounted a sea blockade.
  • It looks as if he is planning to invade.
  • Or at least that is what he wants everyone to think.

Russian warships and attack aircraft conducted aggressive exercises off the coast of Ukraine this week adding fears of a blockade to concerns that the movement of more than 100,000 troops could telegraph a Russian invasion.

In the past weeks, Russia has moved a massive amount of offensive military capabilities - ranging from elite airborne units to modern armor formations to strike aircraft - into military regions along the border of Ukraine, where Russian-speaking "people's republics" have been fighting against Kyiv for independence since 2014.

The big, unanswered question: Is Putin going to invade Ukraine again? Or is he merely preparing to invade Ukraine, in a show of force designed to keep the world on edge?

The context is that Russia has done this before. It seized the formerly Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014 and in the same year lost the Donbas region to Russia-backed separatists. Ukraine and Russia have engaged in an on-again, off-again armed conflict along the border ever since. An invasion into the heart of Ukraine, however, would be a significant escalation of the fighting on Europe's eastern flank.

'He's clearly intent on making everyone believe he's on the verge of invading Ukraine'

"It wouldn't make a lot of sense for Putin to invade Ukraine right now but he's clearly intent on making everyone believe he's on the verge of invading Ukraine," said a Baltic intelligence official who closely monitors Russian aggression. "The units that have been on 'exercises' appear to be specifically chosen for their offensive capabilities and the amount of logistics and support developing behind the units is additional cause for concern."


Russia has repeatedly attacked recent moves by the Ukrainian government to shutter pro-Russian TV stations and sanction oligarchs considered close to Putin, claiming the steps are part of a Ukranian-Amercan plan to crush resistance in the pro-Russian breakaway republics.

On Monday night, Russia announced that it would limit the freedom of movement of foreign military vessels in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, a statement that drew immediate condemnation from the US State Department, which warned the move was tantamount to threatening a naval blockade of an American ally.

'If he's convinced there's a threat he might well act'

A Ukrainian memo leaked to Axios accused the Russians of restricting access to nearly a quarter of the Black Sea, a clear violation of international maritime law.

The memo, from Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, speculates that the Russian aggression could be intended as a political distraction from upcoming legislative elections or as a threat to force Ukraine to change some anti-Russian policies. But a military intelligence official based in NATO headquarters in Brussels warned of a disconnect between the West and Putin on intentions.

"Putin very clearly believes there's a conspiracy to break up Russia's influence in places like Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, etc," said the official. "There's always a fear that when everyone says they don't believe Putin is about to invade Ukraine - and to be fair I do not - that there's a misreading of how he sees the situation. If he's convinced there's a threat he might well act."