How Will We Know If War Has Started?

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  • massed Russian tank formations crossing Ukraine’s frontiers, or a massive rocket barrage or air strikes against Ukrainian positions.
  • Russia already occupies Crimea – part of Ukraine – and it provides practical assistance to anti-Kyiv rebels in the Donbas region.
  • build-up is referred to by Russian spokesmen as an exercise and in no sense threatening. 

Everyone is trying to second-guess President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine. The US is pulling embassy staff out as fears rise of looming conflict. But maybe it’s already started, writes security and defense expert Jonathan Marcus, reports CNN.

Tanks rolling, rockets firing and military pressure

Clearly massed Russian tank formations crossing Ukraine’s frontiers, or a massive rocket barrage or airstrikes against Ukrainian positions would mark a dramatic escalation in the crisis and a shift to a new phase of the conflict.

The first alarms will come from the Ukrainian military itself, but Western satellites and intelligence-gathering aircraft may well spot the preparations for an imminent offensive.

There will probably be clear signs of an impending onslaught, says Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the US-based Center for Naval Analyses.

Among them are “the manning of formations”, he says, since a lot of what has been deployed is heavy equipment rather than the troops themselves. Other signs could be “the dispersal of forces, an influx of logistical and support elements, and a shift in fixed-wing and rotary aviation”.

Hostilities have actually been underway for some years.

Russia already occupies Crimea – part of Ukraine – and it provides practical assistance to anti-Kyiv rebels in the Donbas region.

Indeed it was the intervention of Russian armoured and mechanised units against Ukrainian forces in 2014 that prevented the pro-Russian rebels’ defeat. Sporadic fighting has continued ever since. All sides supposedly support an international peace effort there, but little progress has been made.

Threat of force

Beyond this pressure there is also the threat to employ overwhelming military force.

The build-up of Russian combat formations around Ukraine’s borders is extraordinary. This includes a significant deployment of forces to Belarus – which also shares a border with Ukraine – which might provide a closer jumping-off point for an assault towards the Ukrainian capital Kyiv itself.

The troop build up

This build-up is referred to by Russian spokesmen as an exercise and in no sense threatening. But its scale, the nature of the units deployed, and the gradual arrival of supplies and other “enablers” suggest that this is much more than routine manoeuvres.

Analysts have followed the build-up using civilian satellite photos. Numerous phone videos have been put online showing trains of equipment heading towards Ukraine or Belarus. And assessments of social media postings, correlated with the units seen to be on the move, provide a remarkable insight into what is going on.

Irrespective of what Moscow may say, Ukraine and its friends in the West have every reason to be worried.

Getting Moscow’s story out to the public

The next tool available to Moscow is an attempt to influence the narrative.

On the one hand, Russia says it is not preparing for war, though it very much looks as though it is. But, just as importantly, it has a story to tell – a narrative – where far from Ukraine being the victim, it is in fact Russia itself that is threatened.

This is the substance of the documents handed over to the US which seek to halt and in some ways reverse Nato expansion and create a new sphere of influence for Moscow.

While some aspects of Russia’s concerns, like talks on strategic and other weapons systems, are widely seen as a good idea, on Nato enlargement it is unlikely to get any change – and it probably knows this.

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Source: BBC

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