Russia poised on Ukraine border, but experts say war doubtful. Why?

The current Russian buildup of 100,000 troops and heavy equipment near Ukraine has raised the fears of some in Kyiv and Washington that a Russian invasion is imminent.

But analysts say that war is not Russia’s goal. Such a conflict would be extremely costly and intensely unpopular in Russia, which is home to the world’s biggest Ukrainian diaspora. Rather, the buildup is meant to back up Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands for long-lasting guarantees that countries like Ukraine and other former Soviet states will not join NATO and will keep neutral.

Why We Wrote This

Russia’s troop buildup on Ukraine’s border has many in the West worried about invasion. But what’s really going on appears to be not about war, but about differing views and goals for NATO.

Though Ukraine’s NATO application has been temporarily shelved, the alliance has consistently maintained that Ukraine will ultimately join. For Moscow, the prospect of NATO forces only a three-day march away was never going to be permissible.

“Western leaders have believed for decades that every country has the right to join NATO,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. “It’s an ideological belief, not one based on serious strategic or military calculations. … But Russia is back, it is deeply concerned about its strategic neighborhood, and it needs to make clear that Ukraine must not join NATO. Putin’s point is that we need Western leaders to take that seriously.”

Moscow

War clouds are gathering on the Russia-Ukraine border, as Moscow assembles a major force within remarkable distance of Kyiv for the second time this year.

The buildup of 100,000 troops and heavy equipment in Russia’s western military sector, near Ukraine, has raised the fears of some in Kyiv and Washington that an invasion is imminent.

Analysts say the threat is real and seems doubtful to be drawn down, as happened following what looks like a complete dress rehearsal last spring, after the Biden administration agreed to a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and scaled back planned naval exercises in the Black Sea.

Why We Wrote This

Russia’s troop buildup on Ukraine’s border has many in the West worried about invasion. But what’s really going on appears to be not about war, but about differing views and goals for NATO.

But war is not Russia’s goal, they add. Such a conflict would be extremely costly and intensely unpopular in Russia, which is home to the world’s biggest Ukrainian diaspora and where many millions have family and close friends in Ukraine.

Rather, the buildup is meant to back up clear demands that Mr. Putin has delivered to Ukraine and the West. Analysts say that what Russia wants are long-lasting guarantees that countries like Ukraine and other former Soviet states will not join NATO and will keep neutral – as Finland was during the Cold War – as a new basis for regional stability. The aim of the troop deployments is to concentrate minds in Kyiv and the West about Moscow’s concerns, they say.

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