US warns of dire toll if Putin pursues all-out invasion of Ukraine

Ballistic missiles in Belarus and to the east inside Russian territory have caught the attention of the British and Ukrainians in recent days. The Iskander-M missiles are mounted on mobile launchers, which means they can be brought close to the border in a short time, and they have a range of around 300 miles. This suggests that Mr Putin, if he wanted to, could start attacking towns and military locations before moving troops across the border.

Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley outlined to lawmakers a bristling array of additional Russian military assets that have surrounded Ukraine. They include 11 amphibious assault ships, in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, with the capacity to carry five battalions of Russian marines that could land in Ukraine from the south, officials said. In addition, Mr. Putin has deployed a number of submarines to the Black Sea, defense officials told lawmakers.

Mr Putin has also deployed special operations forces – some 1,500 troops – near and even within the Ukrainian border, officials told lawmakers. These troops, they said, work closely with Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, which has in the past carried out cyberattacks and other attacks on enemies.

European officials tend to be more skeptical that Mr Putin would try to take the country in a full-scale invasion. Some believe he would seek to take over the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, where a crushing proxy war has been going on since 2014.

Another theory is that Mr. Putin could expand this operation with the aim of annexing all of eastern Ukraine, up to the Dnieper. Along the way, he might try to decimate the Ukrainian troops in that part of the country, about half of the Ukrainian army. This could sow panic in the western part of Ukraine – where resistance to Russia may be highest – and cause people to flee the country. Over time, this could lead to senior government officials fleeing or attempting to rule from exile.

US and EU officials have made it clear that a physical attack on Ukraine’s borders would lead to huge sanctions on Russian banks, trade restrictions on semiconductors and other high-tech items, and the freezing of oligarchs’ accounts. and Russian leaders. But there is far less unanimity, as President Biden himself has acknowledged, on how to respond to a “minor incursion.” Or even what a minor incursion might be.

European and American officials fear that Mr Putin is trying to stage a coup in Kiev. Another possibility is a Russian-engineered cyberattack that attempts to bring down part or all of Ukraine’s electrical and communications infrastructure, similar to attacks in 2015 and 2016 on parts of the country’s power grid.

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