Three hundred and forty kilometers east of the Ukrainian capital Kiev is the city of Poltava.
In its heart is a semicircular square with a cast iron pillar and almost two dozen Swedish 18th century cannons captured at the Battle of Poltava in 1709, a decisive meeting in the Great Northern War, fought between Russia’s Peter the Great and Sweden’s Charles XII for supremacy in the East. Europe.
Russia’s Tsar won.
Almost four centuries later, the Ukrainian city located on the banks of the river Vorskla could soon invent history again. That is if Russia’s Vladimir Putin decides to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and orders Russian forces to drive deep into the country, which some Western leaders fear he can.
Poltava is across the road to Kiev and could be a factor if Putin chooses to strike out of the Russian-controlled oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, allowing other forces to cross the border near Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, said Robert Fry, a former commander-in-chief. of the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines.
It was in Poltava in 1709 that “Peter took the first step towards the sovereignty” Great “- a path that the Russian president may have ambitions to follow”, the retired British general noted in a military evaluation of The Article, a British commentary site.
FILE – An actor posing as Russian Tsar Peter the Great, on the right, takes part in a staged battle rehearsal to mark the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava in Moscow, Russia, on July 9, 2009.
Fry suspects, however, that Putin will not be in a hurry to relinquish the benefits he has in pursuing hybrid warfare, recover the Western concessions he has demanded and not court the dangers of a full-scale invasion with the risk of having to calm Europe’s second-largest country and counter a probably Ukrainian uprising.
“The skill with which Russia manipulates the threat of escalation has become one of the decisive features of its military / diplomatic game book and it is meters ahead of the West in this regard. If the mortgage was at stake, I would put it on a ferment of activity below the threshold backed of lots of conventional military positions, without living on conflicts “, he wrote.
Russian officials say they have no plans to attack Ukraine again, and Armed Forces chief Valery Gerasimov has condemned reports of a planned invasion as a lie. NATO Secretary-General has warned that the risk of conflict is real, and US President Joe Biden said this week that his guess is that Russia will move in, either with an invasion or a more limited attack.
But what a “move” could mean is unclear and many Russian observers suspect Putin has not made up his mind. Ukrainian leaders say it is unhelpful to distinguish between a full-fledged invasion and a more limited land grab in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, perhaps with Russia capturing Mariupol on the Azov Sea and Odessa on the Black Sea.
“Speaking of minor and complete invasion or complete invasion, you can not be semi-aggressive,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
Whatever Putin decides to do, he has the forces in place for a major attack and can quickly increase his forces for a deeper attack on Ukraine, Western officials say. Russia began gathering troops along the border with Ukraine last year, and by December about 100,000 had been deployed, according to US and Ukrainian intelligence services.
FIL – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kiev, Ukraine, January 19, 2022.
Artillery, advanced weapon systems and armor have also been deployed, as well as field hospitals and the logistics needed to support tactical battle groups.
Western military officials estimate that Russia would need about 175,000 troops to carry out a huge attack, and some Ukrainian intelligence officials suggest that the number may have been reached. Their US counterparts say the number of forces is still below 175,000. But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that Putin had “plans in place to expand that force even more at very short notice.”
Russia and Ukraine
In the middle of the week, the Kremlin was reported to have moved some forces within 30 kilometers of Ukraine’s border with Belarus. The Kremlin says the forces are participating in joint military exercises with their Belarusian allies, but it places a sizeable Russian force just 80 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital. It is large enough to cut off most of Ukraine’s land forces, which are stationed along the front lines of the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
The Russian military has an overwhelming superiority over Ukraine’s armed forces. Ukraine has about 209,000 soldiers in active duty compared to Russia’s 900,000; and Ukraine’s reserve forces amount to 900,000, while Russia has 2 million.
FILE – A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in the Crimea, January 18, 2022.
Ukraine’s annual military spending is $ 4.3 billion, while Russia’s spending is $ 43.2 billion. Russia has 2,840 tanks compared to Ukraine’s 858; and 4,648 artillery pieces compared to 1,818. The massive advantage continues in terms of fighter aircraft – 1,160 compared to 125. All figures come from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British-based research organization that publishes an annual report on the composition of global military forces.
If the Kremlin decides to attack, the operation would most likely be a repeat of 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and seized Donetsk and Luhansk, with mainly armed agents. “Russian forces could escalate the fighting in the Donbass to drag Ukraine into a conventional conflict,” warned Neil Melvin of the Royal United Services Institute, a London defense policy group.
Others say Putin’s ambitions may be greater.
“Putin has begun exploring coercive alternatives beyond the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of Donbass, which has not given him what he wants,” according to Michael Kimmage and Liana Fix of the German Marshall Fund, a Washington, DC-based research organization.
Their assessment: ‘Perhaps war is the course Putin has already chosen. If so, it can not be a minor war. A minimal goal would be to overthrow the Ukrainian government – not necessarily through open military force – and to install a puppet leader. A more ambitious goal would be to divide the country into two parts, with the line between Russia and a Ukrainian state chosen by Putin. The most expansive goal would be to conquer Ukraine completely and then either to occupy it or to demand that its independence be negotiated on Putin’s terms. ‘