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Russian War Games Surround Ukraine

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By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko warned twice last week that Russia was building up its forces on the two nations’ shared border. The conflict in eastern Ukraine has become frozen.

Even the Minsk agreement, along with the presence of international monitors in the region, hasn’t stopped the occasional flare-up of violence. Making matters worse, Moscow recently accused Kiev of attempting to launch a terrorist attack in the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula. It seems that Russia is laying the groundwork for a proper, conventional invasion of eastern Ukraine, but Russian moves elsewhere suggest that Moscow has another goal in mind.

Russia also held military exercises in Crimea, actions that Moscow termed ‘logistical exercises.’ Further west, the government of Moldova complained to the Russian Embassy in Chisinau over another military exercise in the disputed Transdniester region.

Transdniester is a small sliver of land between Moldova and Ukraine. It claims to be an independent nation. However, Transdniester is not recognized by any other nation or governing body.

Ukraine Concerned about Russian Military Activities in Transdniester

Transdniester (also known as Transdniestria) has housed Soviet (now Russian) troops since the end of the Cold War. Moldova fought a war with Russia over Transdniester in 1990, making any military activities in the region rather sensitive for Chisinau.

From Ukraine’s point of view, Russia engaged in war games in three different locations on their borders. After the loss of Crimea and eastern Ukraine to Russian military action, the concern in Kiev is understandable.

Even with this show of force and the accusations leveled at Ukraine, Russia hasn’t yet acted. Russia could launch some sort of invasion, or Russia could be preparing for negotiations with the U.S. and Germany once more by strengthening its position.

Invading Ukraine Would Be Difficult but Still Possible for Russia

Ukraine is a large nation. Invading, let alone occupying, such a large space is neither simple nor cheap. Russia has previously fought wars while it was in the midst of economic distress, but launching an invasion of Ukraine may not be so pressing a matter that it must be done right now. Russia is sufficiently positioned to make a move at its choosing, so there is no need for anything to occur at the moment.

Russia is still militarily involved in Syria, making the possibility of a Ukrainian invasion even more remote. But such an action cannot be ruled out.

What Image Will Russia Display to Next U.S. President?

Russia is quite skilled at misdirection; that may be what we are seeing. Moscow will enter negotiations with a new U.S. president in the very near future. Clearly, demonstrating an ability to move on Ukraine will go a long way in shaping the next administration’s perceptions.

In other words, Russia can make the concession of removing troops from a tenuous situation, but it won’t give up anything substantial. Russian troops in Russia can be moved around at will. Offering to remove troops from the Ukrainian border is something that can be negotiated away quite easily in exchange for sanctions relief.

Russia may appear as if it’s ready and willing to carry out military action at any time, and it certainly could. But these military exercises may be more about posturing.

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