According to the head of the Ukrainian intelligence service, Kyrylo Budanov, the deadly conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces could turn into a full-blown war over the New Year.
“Russia has gathered 92,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and is preparing for a possible attack in late January or early February 2022,” Budanov said.
The statements of the website Military Times have aroused attention, and concern that there may be a full-scale war between the two Slavic neighbors Russia and Ukraine.
Norwegian observers in the middle of a tense situation in eastern Ukraine
Although President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the allegations in a conference call on Monday, there are many signs that point to increased tensions and opportunities for a full-fledged military confrontation in Eastern Europe in the coming months.
The Russian foreign intelligence service SVR believes that the situation is reminiscent of the one that was in the summer of 2008 and which ended with Georgia forcibly trying to take control of the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
At that time, Russia intervened militarily and Georgia suffered a humiliating military defeat.
The «Red line»
According to the news agency Interfax, SVR calls the allegations of a Russian force build-up and possible attack on Ukraine a pure lie.
– We can not rule out that the allegations of Russian force building come to cover up aggressive dreams that Kiev has. Dreams of solving the problems in the southeastern part of the country by force, says Peskov.
Russian President Vladimir Putin did his part on Thursday 18 November to build tensions.
In a speech to Russian diplomats, he spoke of a “red line” that NATO and the West cross, with clear reference to the military support that the United States in particular is increasingly giving to the Ukrainian military.
The Ukrainian defense has, among other things, received the modern anti-tank weapon Javelin and AN / TPQ-53 mobile radar system. In addition, Ukraine has now received Turkish-built drones of the type “Bayraktar”.
These have already been deployed in the shadow war against the pro-Russian separatists in Donbass.
More than 13,000 people have lost their lives and millions have fled or had their homes destroyed in this conflict since 2014.
Russia believes that it is Ukrainian nationalists who must bear the main responsibility for what has happened by not paying attention to the Russian-speaking minority in the country. Ukraine believes it is about pure Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs.
Russia has given up Zelensky
The statements of President Putin and his close aides and former President and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev show that the Russian leadership has now largely given up on having any dialogue and a possible agreement with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
When Zelensky was elected president in 2019, many in both Ukraine and Russia had hoped that he could be a person who could end the conflict between the two Slavic neighbors.
The summit between Zelensky and Putin in Paris in December 2019, hosted by France and Germany, was not a breakthrough.
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But in any case, it led to an extensive exchange of prisoners and to the situation at the almost 500-kilometer-long front line in Donbass calming down somewhat.
But Volodymyr Zelensky has always been under strong pressure from nationalist forces in Ukraine, which is on guard against any compromise that could shake Ukraine’s integrity.
Satellite imagery and military exercises
Western intelligence sources have shown that there has been some build-up of Russian forces around Ukraine in recent times.
Among other things, a picture has been published showing a large accumulation of vehicles and equipment about 200 kilometers north of the border near the city of Jelnja, a place where there are usually no military forces.
The Ukrainian military announced on Monday that it was conducting exercises near the capital Kiev this week. Last week, a major exercise was carried out in the southern part of the country, near the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula.
The situation is also reminiscent of those in this area in the spring of 2021, when Russia gathered large forces at the border with Ukraine, while there was a lot of shooting along the front line in the Donbass.
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Georgia 2008 again?
So far, it is mostly allegations and powerful vocabulary that build on the fear of a new war in Eastern Europe.
But there are undoubtedly similarities with what happened in Georgia in the summer of 2008, although the Russian version of the five-day war at the time is, to put it mildly, controversial.
Many believe that Georgia’s then-President Mikhail Saakashvili had a completely unrealistic hope for his own military strength and that Russia would sit still and watch what happens in what President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly defined as the country’s sphere of interest.
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This also applies to the highest degree to Ukraine, where Putin has repeatedly said that a Ukrainian NATO membership would be as good as a declaration of war, at least to be crossing “a red line”.
Can Biden and Putin find a solution?
Russia announced last week that the country will now, to a far greater extent than now, integrate the economy into the areas of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
At the same time, Putin announced that financial aid to these areas would also be increased. Already, more than half a million of the inhabitants of this part of Ukraine have received Russian citizenship.
A positive sign is that the situation in Ukraine will be a major theme in the new planned talks between Putin and his American colleague Joe Biden.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, according to the Interfax news agency, that Americans better than most have an understanding of the situation in Ukraine and also have opportunities to influence Kiev better than anyone else, Lavrov said.