The Kremlin denies this, but America suspects Russia is planning to invade Ukraine early next year. Experts doubt whether he will actually reach that, but at the same time warn that an invasion is certainly not an unrealistic scenario.
In any case, if it comes to an invasion, it will likely be a fierce battle. Ukraine has long ceased to be a country with a poorly organized and poorly armed army. Moreover, the population is becoming more hardline and anti-Russian than ever before, according to Ukrainian analysts.
“Ukraine has much more experienced soldiers than it did in 2014,” said Maria Avdeeva, director of research at the Association of European Experts. “They are ready to fight for Ukraine.”
A better equipped army
2014 was a major year for Ukraine for several reasons. Then Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. After months of massive anti-government demonstrations, pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych left.
Then the pro-Russian separatists in the border regions of Donetsk and Luhansk turned against the new Ukrainian government. With Russian support, they declared their people’s republics. The warring parties agreed to an armistice but it is regularly violated. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far.
In early November, Russia increased the number of its troops along the Ukrainian border. “This is still causing panic in the population,” said Volodymyr Dubovik of the Ukrainian Center for International Studies. Because, he says, the Ukrainian military has improved a lot since 2014. Thanks in part for American support. “The difference is huge. There is a bigger, better equipped and more experienced army.”
According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, the armed forces are even able to repel a Russian attack. Dubovic doubts that. Because despite US support, Ukraine will likely stand largely on its own in the event of a Russian invasion. Russia, of course, is stronger than Ukraine.”
“But it will be a fierce battle. They know this very well in Moscow. There will be many dead. Hopefully, that will remain a deterrent to the Kremlin if they contemplate a full-scale invasion.”
In addition, precisely because of the Russian presence in the Donbass, the Ukrainian population has become more united and more anti-Russian than it was in 2014, says Avdeeva.
“Ukrainian youth grew up with the idea that we have an aggressive neighbor. Even in historically pro-Russian regions, there is less support for Russia because of aggression. People no longer vote for pro-Russian candidates. Young people are ready to fight.”
‘What Putin wants is ridiculous’
Support for Russia is eroding further as the space for Russian disinformation decreases. Avdeva says Ukrainians now understand that Russian arguments for increasing the number of troops on the border are wrong.
President Vladimir Putin has said he wants to defend Russia against the expansionist position of NATO. Avdeva: “He says he is afraid of NATO on its borders, but Russia already has NATO on its borders with Estonia and Latvia. He wants to keep NATO at a distance, but if he invades Ukraine, he is on the borders of more NATO countries.”
Dubovic thinks Putin has other reasons for a possible invasion. “If Ukraine falls under Russian rule, Russia may become a great power again. If Ukraine breaks away from Russia, becomes part of the West and joins NATO, this project will fail. It will be a disaster for Putin and like-minded people.” In Russia.”
According to Putin, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are historically one country. But this is nonsense, says Avdeva. “In the Kremlin they can say whatever they want, but the truth is that Ukraine is an independent country. What Putin wants is ridiculous.”
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