Russia’s Military Buildup Next to Donbass Is Intended to Be Seen

The real offensive you would never see coming. This isn't preparation for an attack but a message to Kiev and the West

A recent breakdown of the ceasefire in Ukraine, and escalation in fighting along the line of control, has been followed by what has become a somewhat traditional war of words between Moscow and Kiev, with each side blaming the other.

The rhetorical escalation plays out amidst a significant level of Russian military activity, exercises, and deployments which have caused intense apprehension in Ukraine, U.S., and among NATO allies.

Russian forces have shifted several units to Crimea, with visible movements among the Southern Military District, among others, and their intentions are unclear.

These actions do not appear to be regular exercises, nor are they necessarily a prelude to an offensive. The activity is exemplary of coercive diplomacy, a Russian effort to use hard military power in an effort to pressure Ukraine politically, and equally signal to Ukraine’s partners in the West.

Although the long simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine is no stranger to war scares, with almost annual fears of a new escalation or offensive tending to crop up in the spring, this time is different.

U.S. military leadership, undoubtedly working off of the best intelligence available, raised the alert level at European Command (EUCOM). 

Meanwhile, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley, called his counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, reportedly to discuss the issue of Russian troop movements.

Fears that the current deployments are in fact preparations for an offensive reflect prudent caution, given Russian intentions are not clear, whereas the present-day Russian force posture is such that there would be little warning in the event of a military operation.

The alarm is genuine. Russian military deployments appear out of cycle for such exercises, and are not regular troop rotations.

Recent announcements of exercises by Southern Military District commander Aleksandr Dvornikov appear to be post hoc justifications, released well after this activity began, and do not explain a host of other movements that have been observed. In short, Russian military explanations for this activity are unconvincing, as it is clearly tied to events in Ukraine.

However, the movements are being made in a decidedly visible manner. In other words, they are intended to be seen, and are less indicative of preparation for a covert attack. The Russian military could be doing far more to conceal preparations or troop movements were this their objective. Nor do they appear to be of the size commensurate with a major military operation, although the present picture is incomplete as some Russian units are still on the move while others have begun drilling. Consequently, these overt shifts in military posture and readiness appear to be primarily coercive and demonstrative in nature.

The standing hypothesis for why Russia might conduct offensive operations are not especially explanative.

Almost annually, a theory has been floated that Russia intends to seize Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast because of the water crisis in Crimea. The root cause is the shutoff water canal running from the Dnepr, compounded by recent droughts.

This notion has superficial appeal, but the operation would require a sizable force to deploy and occupy Kherson, which would then generate a new set of dilemmas in supplying and managing another fragmented region. Despite its low likelihood, this idea has been trotted out with some frequency, just like the supposed “land bridge to Crimea” operation that Russia never executed (instead building an actual bridge). These proclamations, a form of crying wolf, have proven unhelpful over the years. They have gained new life as Russia deployed an unusually large force into Crimea in recent days, consisting of 58th Army elements, and VDV airborne.

Ukrainian pronouncements had also been somewhat contradictory, raising the threat of escalation, while at the same time claiming that this was Russian baiting, a provocation to which they would not react. Hence Ukrainian forces have shown some movement, but generally do not appear to be responding to this Russian deployment in a manner that suggests they are preparing for war. 

There was some suggestion that Russia sought a casus belli to introduce its own forces as peacekeepers into the occupied territories, but this too was an illogical proposition, since Russian forces are deployed in the Donbass and can move about as they please. Meanwhile Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for the escalation in a manner that has long become expected, perfunctory, and unconvincing.

The most logical explanation is that the ceasefire broke down because Russia seeks to pressure Ukraine, and Western counterparts, over the lack of progress in implementing Minsk II. 

The breakaway regions are heading towards de facto Russian annexation.

Moscow’s goal is not only to intimidate, but to illustrate that the conflict cannot be frozen without significant political concessions or compromises.

They may be similarly aimed as a signal to the new Biden administration that Russia retains strong coercive power, can escalate at will, and should arguably be much higher on the White House’s foreign policy agenda than currently stated.

Crises such as these call for prudent caution, but thus far it is not clear that either side is truly trying to provoke the other because of a genuine interest in war, or is engaged in an action-reaction dynamic that is likely to lead there. While many subscribe to the notion that a military incident could spark conflict, this is historically untrue. Countries use incidents as a pretext to launch wars they seek, but military incidents are not a leading cause of conflict. This conflict has had skirmishes and incidents a plenty that have not yielded dramatic escalations.

Leaders use force when they believe it is necessary for them to achieve political aims. There’s not much evidence this is currently the case for Russia’s position vis-a-vis Ukraine.

The challenge is that Moscow’s political calculus in recent years has proven difficult to ascertain, and there is no trust in anything emanating out of the Kremlin.

When intentions are unclear, reactions are often driven by the military capabilities observed, and the worst-case thinking that they engender.

Source: The Moscow Times


  1. Brainuser says

    Moscow Times is a CIA mouthpiece

  2. Jerry Hood says

    Ukraine is Kurvaine,and Kiev became after the maidan Chuiev…And soon, the U-krainian chuii will be dead,once they attack the Russians…

    1. yuri says

      u should explain that kurva is one slang word for prostitute in Russian

  3. Mark says

    “U.S. military leadership, undoubtedly working off of the best intelligence available, raised the alert level at European Command (EUCOM).”

    I was going to ask you if you were being sarcastic with that line. Then I read to the bottom and realized the source is the Moscow Times. The Moscow Times is majority-owned by Russian citizens – and is otherwise Dutch – mostly to avoid having to declare itself an agent of a foreign government.–buyout-of-legal-entities–financing%22–how-the-media-are-trying-to-avoid-labeling-a-foreign-agent.HJBxotmXv.html

    The current editor-in-chief is unknown, at least by me, but until 2019 it was Eva Hartog, a Dutch journalist who grew up in Spain. Its early editors-in-chief were all Americans, and in 2017 it ceased printing its paper editions due to declining readership, moving to an online-only format. As others have alluded, it is extremely pro-American in tone.

    Russia is not interested in acquiring Kherson, because then the Ukrainians would just shut off the water supply to Kherson. By the way, shutting off the water supply to a civilian population on order to coerce political cooperation is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. I need hardly point out that Ukraine has never been held to account.

    The Russian military movements are a warning – if you start something, be sure to not write a cheque your military can’t cash. They are deliberately giving Kuh-yiv a glimpse of what might be arrayed against it, only because it takes an obvious warning to get through to the Ukrainian leadership, which is increasingly delusional, and imagines its American ‘partners’ would fly to its aid. The real punishment could be much quicker and more decisive than a troop buildup forewarns – a cruise-missile attack from the Caspian Sea could remove the centers of power in Kiev before America could put down its coffee cup.

    1. jm74 says

      You got it right; Ukraine did declare Russia as being an enemy in late March hence Putin reacted.

  4. Victor says

    At least one estimate holds that Russia is mobilising at least 250,000 troops, some from as far away as Siberia, and loads and loads of military equipment and support services from all over. Some companies in Russia are having trouble getting their goods to market because the trains are being utilised for the military now. This is by far the largest military build-up in modern times for Russia. It should not be taken as a simple political gesture as the article supposes.

    Lavrov said it best. He indicated clearly that if Ukraine continues on its present course and the US/EU begin supporting them with troop deployments, Ukraine will be destroyed. This huge build-up indicates to me that the Russians do not expect Ukraine to listen to reason.

    As for the author’s belief that Russia would not make such a show of it if their intent was real, I would suggest that the Russian’s haven’t made a show of it at all – their government has not mentioned this build-up to my knowledge. All the reports coming in about it have been mainly from reporters and civilians in the field who are witnessing the tremendous military traffic passing by.

    Russia might well have decided now that Ukraine is a lost cause, has no intention of fulfilling its responsibilities under the Minsk Agreement, are building up its military on the demarcation, neutral area bordering the Donbas, have officially declared Russia an enemy and vowed to take back the Crimea. In anyone’s language, those are words of war on the part of Ukraine. One slip-up on Ukraine’s part and Russia will flood the country to the Dnieper river and destroy every Ukrainian military force in its way. Ukraine will be no more. Will the US/EU come to its aid? Not a chance. Who is going to war with Russia over a cesspool like Ukraine?

    1. Mark says

      It would be quite something to see the logistics effort by the west – assuming they would come to Ukraine’s aid – to get a comparable ground-forces presence of socially-distanced and masked soldiers to the battlefield, considering you could only get a third of a normal full load on a plane.Or would the coronavirus crisis be forgotten in an ’emergency’?

      1. Mark says

        Mind you, there are some who suggest the west wants Russia to take back Ukraine, is merely making a show of holding on to it and would back away if it was taken, because the last thing Europe needs now is another large, poor country dependent on its support. Ukraine is nearly as large as it always was, but for the small bit that used to be the autonomous republic of Crimea, and several degrees poorer after years of low-level conflict, mismanagement and incompetence by ideological governments. The combined mischief-makers in Europe and North America do not have the money it would take even to restore Ukraine to the half-mess it was before the Glorious Maidan, Revolution of Dignity, which was reckoned immediately after the initial fighting died down to be $75 Billion and would be a couple of times that by now.

        Typically when military forces are merely exercising, they leave behind the specialist accompanying support rearguard such as chemical-warfare decontamination vehicles, field hospitals and medical vehicles and massive logistics assets needed to resupply fuel and ammunition. If those are present this time, it may indeed be serious.

    2. Hoyeru says

      Yes, but the West will use that as an excuse to place economic blocade on Russia, and thats exactly what they want/intend to do. SO even if Russia wins, it will lose. Putin is in a bind and the West knows it.

      1. Mark says

        Hardly. The west – more accurately, the United States and the UK as the most enthusiastic participants – have ensured the original package of western sanctions continues to roll over every six months. ‘New’ sanctions have consisted in adding a couple more people to the list of sanctioned personnel, some of them individuals who had already appeared on another list. The initial sanctions did not really hurt Russia, and those imposed since are increasingly regarded with scorn and mockery.

        America’s approach to sanctions has been to sanction ‘individuals who are high-ranking members of Putin’s inner circle’…but not their companies. Rex Tillerson, while he was still just the CEO of Exxon Mobil, was skeptical that the approach was doing anything at all.

        Interestingly, when he was Secretary of State, Tillerson did nothing much to change that approach. The United States does not dare to sanction Russian energy companies, because they already supply next to nothing to America, but supply a market share of energy to Europe which would be impossible to replace by any other nation or combination of nations. In the first semester of 2020, Russia had already nearly reached the totals it supplied to Europe in all of 2019.

        Pretty much everything else which was interrupted by sanctions that most of Europe was quite reluctant to enact has been replaced, either by domestic industry or new trade partners – that market share is never coming back for Europe.

        A potential war in Ukraine must also be regarded in the framework of what it would do to Europe’s energy supply. The west would have to be supremely confident of a decisive win for Ukraine and its partners, quickly enough that next winter’s energy supply was not in jeopardy. Is it, do you think? Confident of a quick and decisive win? Not if it has any brains left at all, it isn’t.

      2. yuri says

        no “bind”
        nobody wants Ukraine—a failed state, effectively a US colony….any invasion will humiliate ukraine and the angloshere, permanently removing ukraine from the Donbas….USA can carry this burden and accelerate the collapse of its decayed empire….the Russian economy is self sufficient and enjoys positive balance of trade w all nations…europe needs Russian resources, machinery, tech, wheat far more than Russia needs euros or dollars…the Russian economy now emphasizes Asia, ME, Africa, Latin amerika—for example, Russian vehicles are exported to nearly 40 nations currently—Russia is constructing ad danced nuclear reactors in Indonesia, India, Iran, Turkey, Hungary, China….etc

      3. XSFRGR says

        I’m not certain how you’re developing your intelligence (assuming you have any), but Russia doesn’t need the U$ or the West for anything. Lavrov has firmly stated the Russia is fully prepared to separate from the West, and will do so at the least provocation. Putin’s last comment on the situation was to the effect, “You can talk to Lavrov, or you can talk to Shoygu; the choice is yours.”

  5. Andra says

    That ‘ll be the day when Russia feels compelled to explain itself following any cue from any Nato or US shill. They won’t ever see the punch coming.

  6. GMC says

    I read the new ” Presidential order to de occupy the Autonomous Republic of Crimea ” article 217 /2021 and this looks like a Jew lawyer document for sure. It states that Ukraine doesn’t legally accept the Crimean vote to dump the loser Ukraine and go back to Russia.
    Sooo, what rights does a Autonomous Republic have , if it can’t vote for it’s future? Crimea tried to dump Ukraine in the early 90s , but Kiev threw the existing Crimean government out and installed a new pro Kiev mafia government , in its place – that is all documented.
    Kyiv also doesn’t want to acknowledge or accept any Russian citizenship passports that Ukrainian residents own. I bet they would if those PP were from Israel or th USA.
    The Babylonian Talmud Jews in Washington want a war with the White Orthodox Kingdom of the North – they have sacked the USA but they need Russia , in order to get their One World Order. oo dah chee shoepas

  7. yuri says

    Moscow times=hollywood CIA drivel
    Russians do not complain, brag and bluster like fake amerikans–we act
    no matter how stupid the amerikans I doubt Ukrainians are as stupid as the Georgians were in 2008

  8. nnn says

    Long overdue to eliminate all this Judo_Bandera scum in Kiev

  9. Hoyeru says

    Moscow times arent a reliable source for info, they are anti Putin, Anti Kremlin NGO financed by the West. Just look at the language they use.

    But they are right, it IS a warning to the West. Too bad Putin has only thins card to play, when he could ahve gotten the mess cleaned up when the Dnbass forced beat the Kiev forces a few eyars ago. Puin hesitated and we all know, who hesitates is lost.

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