By Olga Tokariuk
Kiev, Nov 23 (EFE).- Russia mobilized reservists in the occupied Ukraine territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and is increasing their combat readiness, Ukrainian defense intelligence agencies said Tuesday.
“Large-scale drills with the participation of mobilization reserves, subdivisions of ‘security services’ and occupational administrations have begun on November 22” in both of the eastern regions of the country, Ukraine’s main directorate of intelligence at the defense ministry said.
The development added to concerns in Ukraine about a possible large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine this winter. On Sunday, chief of defense intelligence Kyrylo Budanov told the Military Times that Russia had amassed 92,000 soldiers at the border with Ukraine and was preparing for a massive invasion in late January or February 2022.
Such an attack would likely involve airstrikes, artillery and armor attacks followed by airborne assaults in the east, amphibious assaults from the Black and Azov Sea and a smaller incursion through neighboring Belarus, Budanov said.
Bloomberg, citing sources in the US intelligence, reported on Sunday that 100 Russian battalion tactical groups — potentially around 100,000 soldiers — were stationed at Ukraine’s borders and ready to invade from different directions, in what was described as “an operation in rough terrain and freezing conditions, covering extensive territory and prepared for a potentially prolonged occupation.”
ACKNOWLEDGING THE THREAT
Kiev initially sought to downplay the risk, despite the fact that the first warnings about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine were voiced by US intelligence, government and media in early November.
The secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defense council (NSDC) Oleksii Danilov on November 2 called the media reports ‘disinformation’.
But on Sunday, he completely changed his tone, confirming Russia was pooling troops at the Ukrainian border, in what he called an attempt “to raise the stakes in future negotiations.”
“It is likely Ukrainian authorities at first didn’t confirm these reports in order not to sow panic,” Sergii Kryvonos, a major general in reserve and former deputy commander of special operations units within Ukraine’s Armed forces, told Efe.
Still, he is not convinced there actually will be a large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine: “It depends on whether Putin feels he could get away with it. His aim is to blackmail the West,” Kryvonos said.
Other Ukrainian military experts Efe spoke with tend to agree. They note Russia already invaded Ukraine in 2014, and a threat of a major aggression has been present ever since.
In spring this year, Russia gathered troops and military vehicles along the Ukrainian border. After the Putin-Biden meeting in Geneva in June, Russian soldiers were withdrawn, but the machinery at the border remained to facilitate their quick return.
Conflict has been simmering in Ukraine’s east between government troops and occupying forces, backed by Russia, since a pro-Moscow uprising in 2014.
According to United Nations estimates, some 14,000 people from both sides have been killed in the war.
While Ukrainian experts remain wary about the risk of a large-scale Russian attack, they agree Kiev has to prepare for all possible scenarios.
Combat readiness and preparedness of the Ukrainian military is much stronger now compared to 2014, Taras Chmut, former soldier and head of the board at Ukraine Military Center NGO, told Efe.
The annexation of Crimea and Russian-stroked insurgency in Donetsk and Luhansk regions took Kiev by surprise.