Russia is planning to invade Ukraine by the end of January after sending more than 92,000 troops to the border, according to a top general in Kiev.
Vladimir Putin’s forces, including tanks, missile batteries and warships, have fanned out across the frontier: from Belarus to the north; the separatist-backed territory in the east; and on the banks of the Black Sea in the Crimean Peninsula.
The three-pronged offensive would include amphibious landings at the port cities of Odessa and Mariupol, airstrikes and artillery bombardments and an armoured invasion in the east, and a smaller ground incursion through Belarus.
A map shared with Military Times shows how Ukrainian intelligence is bracing for a bloody and ferocious invasion that could see swathes of Ukraine captured in an assault which would dwarf the annexation of the Crimea in 2014.
Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov said Putin’s colossal Zapad military exercises carried out jointly with Belarusian forces last month proved that more than 3,500 paratroopers could be dropped in one swoop.
The Kremlin on Monday dismissed Budanov’s claims and said that it was alarmed that Kiev was being supplied with large quantities of munitions and reinforcing its troops along the border.
Massive Russian-Belarusian joint drill were held in September, further increasing anxieties of an imminent invasion (pictured: Tanks and missile batteries taking part in the exercises last month)
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Moscow on Monday
The Russian Navy’s guided missile cruiser Moskva (Moscow) sails back into a harbour after tracking Nato warships in the Black Sea, in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea, on November 16
Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov said the migrant crisis laid at Europe’s feet in Poland was only the latest in a long line of Russian propaganda offensives designed to sow anti-government sentiment in Ukraine (pictured: migrants at the Polish border on November 15)
A satellite image from November 1 shows the presence of armoured vehicles deployed on the northern edge of the town of Yelnya, near the Ukrainian border
Ukraine’s new defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said during a trip to Washington last week that Putin was ‘playing chess’ with the West but it remained unclear what his intentions were.
‘We’re not sure exactly what Mr Putin is up to,’ Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, admitted on Wednesday.
Budanov said that ideally the US could prevent any Russian invasion through military support and increased sanctions.
Washington has delivered Mark VI patrol boats, Javelin anti-armour laucnchers and AN/TPQ-53 radar systems to track and counter incoming missile fire.
Ukraine wants more air, missile and drone defense capabilities and electronic jamming devices, Budonov told Military Times.
Britain signed a new arms deal with the Nato ally this month to provide 10 warships and new missile systems to shore up defences.
Boris Johnson has warned it would be a ‘tragic mistake for the Kremlin to think there was anything to be gained by military adventurism.’
Budanov said that whether Putin decides to order the invasion, Moscow remained committed to grey zone warfare to disrupt the stability of the government in Kiev.
Kremlin-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the east since the revolution in 2014 that ousted the Putin-allied president. The conflict has left 14,000 dead.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has further infuriated Moscow by censoring Kremlin-linked broadcasters and ousting pro-Russian business interests.
‘They want to foment unrest, through protests and meetings, that show the people are against the government,’ Budanov said.
Russia and Belarus staged huge military exercises, which included a beach invasion in the Kaliningrad region
Russian President Vladimir Putin overseeing the massive Zapad 21 military exercise in September
The latest propaganda offensive involves sowing anti-vax mistrust, in addition to preying on existing fears about energy supplies and the economy.
The migrant crisis at the Polish border caused by Belarusian tyrant Alexander Lukashenko, is another aspect of that information war, Budanov said.
‘They want to make the situation inside the country more and more dangerous and hard and make a situation where we have to change the government,’ he told Military Times.
‘If they can’t do that, than military troops will do their job.’
He said the view was shared by Kiev’s intelligence counterparts in Washington.
But Budanov said he wanted more support from the Americans.
Washington has warned that Russia is building up forces close to the border in preparation for a possible invasion (file image, Ukrainian troops in the region)
Ukraine has called for western nations to supply more weapons as it faces the prospect of a years-long conflict with Russian separatists boiling over (file image, Ukrainian tanks)
‘I think it’s not enough for us right now,’ the commander said. ‘We need more. No countries except Ukraine have open war with Russia. And we have for seven years. That’s why we’re sure the U.S should give us everything we didn’t get before. And right now. It’s the right time for this. Because after it could be very late.’
In April, a similar buildup of troops on the Russian border fuelled anxieties of an imminent invasion.
But now Russia’s relations with the West are even more strained by the migrant crisis laid at Europe’s doorstep in Poland and soaring gas prices.
RAF fighter jets were last week scrambled to intercept two Russian nuclear bombers which were flying south over the North Sea towards the Netherlands.
British troops have also been deployed at the Polish border to advise Warsaw’s soldiers about how to protect from a Russian invasion.
That came after the Kremlin ordered paratrooper drills at the frontier just a few miles away from where the migrant camp is located.