Eastern Ukraine – American and Russian diplomats were, Switzerland, in an attempt to defuse a potential . The United States and its allies, including Ukraine, fear that Russia will invade its neighbor again, as it did in 2014 when Vladimir Putin’s forces .
Holly Williams, CBS News’ senior foreign correspondent, is in eastern Ukraine, speaks with military leaders preparing for a potential war with Russia and hopes to prevent another land grab.
The Cold War ended 30 years ago with the collapse of the Soviet Empire. But Williams found Ukrainian soldiers were fighting – with US help – against Russian-backed separatists, and the US government warned Russia could be on the brink of yet another invasion.
On the frozen front line of conflict, Williams was led through icy trenches that cut the country in two. Ukraine is an American ally that has fought a bloody rebellion backed by Russia since 2014. More than 14,000 people are believed to have been killed in those seven years.
Commander Andriy, a 22-year veteran of the Ukrainian armed forces, is worried. He believes there is a very real chance that Putin will order his forces to invade again.
This winter, Russia massed up to 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border. He also tested his new hypersonic missiles, which may be able to evade US air defense systems.
Some analysts believe that a full ground invasion of Russia, with tanks, artillery and armored vehicles rolling over the border, would only be possible after the ground was frozen, but in the trenches, the troops told CBS News they believed it could happen at any time.
Putin dismisses concerns expressed by Ukraine, the United States and its NATO allies, insisting that it is Russia that is suffering at the hands of Western aggression. He demanded security guarantees from the United States and NATO, including the withdrawal of NATO troops from much of Eastern Europe.
But some say Putin is playing a cold war’s edge game.
“He wants to be treated like a great leader. He wants Russia to be treated like a great power,” Ukrainian political analyst Taras Berezovets told CBS News. He thinks Putin is simply using Ukraine and the threat of yet another invasion as a pawn to get what he wants from the West.
“He thinks that if he shows his power here, he shows violence here in Ukraine … Western leaders can say, ‘Okay, we should deal with Putin and treat him like we treated Soviet and Communist leaders. . ‘”
The United States helped train Ukrainian frontline soldiers. Last year, Washington provided nearly half a billion dollars in military assistance, including anti-tank missiles. In two phone calls with Putin last month, President Biden threatened Moscow with additional sanctions if Russia invaded, but he said he would not send US troops.
Some analysts believe Putin believes that the United States is in decline as a superpower, and that he sees an opportunity for Russia to gain weight on the world stage, at the expense of the democratic West.
“From his point of view, he thinks that democracy [is] getting weaker and weaker, ”Berezovets told Williams.
Hundreds of kilometers from the front line in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, they have renovated old bomb shelters that civilians can use in the event of a Russian attack. Williams visited one of the shelters, which were originally built during the Cold War, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and the enemy, ironically, was America.
Back at the front, the troops in the trenches do not want to be part of a new Russian empire, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice to prevent it.
“All of my soldiers, right now, ready for battle,” Commander Andriy told CBS News.
“Are you all prepared to die to save Ukraine from the Russian invasion?” Williams asked him.
“Not just me, all my soldiers,” he replied.