Russia has amassed more than 92,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders and is preparing for an attack by late January or early February, the head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency told the Military Times.
Such an attack would likely involve airstrikes, artillery and armor attacks followed by airborne assaults in the east, amphibious assaults in Odessa and Mariupul, and a more modest incursion through neighboring Belarus, Ukraine Brig . General Kyrylo Budanov told the Military Times on Saturday morning in an exclusive interview.
Russia’s large-scale Zapad 21 military exercise earlier this year proved, for example, that they can drop up to 3,500 airborne and special ops troops at a time, he said.
The attack Russia is preparing, Budanov said, would be far more devastating than anything seen before in the conflict that began in 2014, which left some 14,000 Ukrainians killed.
Speaking to the Washington Post on Friday, Ukraine’s new defense minister Oleksii Reznikov said it was not clear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had already decided to attack.
But Russia is building up its capabilities to do so, Budanov told the Military Times, increasing troop levels and weapon systems in occupied Crimea and implementing systems like the Iskandar short-range ballistic missile systems. and other weapons elsewhere near the border. And he scoffed at suggestions that the brutal weather conditions at this time of year would deter the Russians from attacking.
“It’s not a problem for us and the Russians,” Budanov said of the fighting in freezing weather.
However, such an attack would first follow a series of psychological operations currently underway aimed at destabilizing Ukraine and undermining its ability to fight, Budanov said, speaking through an interpreter.
“They want to stir up unrest, through demonstrations and meetings, which show that the people are against the government,” he said.
These efforts include ongoing protests for the COVID-19 vaccination which Budanov says were staged by Russia, which is also trying to fuel unrest over the economy and energy supply.
In addition, Budanov said Russia was trying to stoke anti-government sentiment following an incident dubbed “Wagnergate” – a controversy involving around 30 members of the Russian private military group responsible for attacks in Ukraine. Members of the Wagner group, who traveled to Belarus, were supposed to be brought back to Ukraine for detention, but were sent to Russia with the help of the Belarusian KGB, Budanov said.
Russian psychological operations are used to show that “our authorities have betrayed the people,” Budanov said.
The ongoing border conflict between Poland and Belarus, which is trying to send refugees to Europe through the Polish border, is part of that effort, he said.
“They want to make the situation inside the country more and more dangerous and difficult and create a situation where we have to change the government,” Budanov said. “If they can’t do it, then the military troops will do their job.”
Budanov said US and Ukrainian intelligence assessments on the timing of a Russian attack are very similar.
“Our assessments are almost the same as our American colleagues,” he said.
The Russian embassy did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday. The Pentagon declined on Saturday to comment on Budanov’s assessments of the timing and nature of any potential Russian attack, instead highlighting comments made Wednesday and Thursday by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
The United States continues to see “troubling behavior from Russia,” Austin told reporters on Wednesday.
“We don’t know exactly what Mr. Putin is up to,” he said. “But these movements certainly have our attention. And I urge Russia to be more transparent about what it is doing to take action to respect the Minsk accords.
“Our support for the territorial integrity of the sovereignty of Ukraine remains unwavering.”
After meeting with Reznikov on Thursday, Austin said the United States “will continue to advance our common priority of countering Russian aggression and deepen our cooperation in areas such as Black Sea security, cyber defense and sharing. information “.
Budanov said ideally the United States would help deter any Russian incursion, with additional military aid and increased diplomatic and economic pressure, including more sanctions on Russia and the seizure and blocking of bank accounts. Russian.
Additionally, in addition to the US aid already promised and delivered, including Mark VI patrol vessels, Javelin anti-armor systems, and AN / TPQ-53 light backfire radar systems, Ukraine is looking for defense systems. aerial, anti-missile and drone systems and additional electronic jamming devices. , said Boudonov. Patriot missile batteries and counter-rocket, artillery and mortar systems are on Ukraine’s wish list.
The AN / TPQ-53 systems have been put to good use, Ukrainian military officials told the Military Times. Budanov said the Javenlin systems were also used against Russian forces. These, along with the Turkish-made drones, used against Russia-aligned separatist artillery troops, have significant psychological deterrence value, Budanov said, prompting the Russians to think twice before attacking.
Still, he said, Ukraine needs more help from America.
“I think that is not enough for us at the moment,” he said of current and promised US aid to Ukraine. “We need more. No country except Ukraine has open war with Russia. And we’ve had it for seven years. That’s why we’re sure the United States should give us everything we haven’t gotten before. And now. This is a good time for that. Because afterwards it could be very late.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously a military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that for the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and the SOF at large among many other topics. .