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Ukraine vs Russia Escalation

Ukraine vs Russia

Ukraine vs Russia conflict has been taking place since February 2014 due to the annexation of Crimea. Since that time, tensions between the two territories have continued to increase. At present, Russian-backed separatists occupy Crimea and the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine.

  • KJ-1 – Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are escalating rapidly throughout early 2021. It is highly likely Russia will continue to show signs of political and military aggression in the coming months.


  • KJ-2 – It is likely that Russia is arming pro-Russian rebels in and around Ukraine. Nonetheless, Kremlin has denied direct involvement.


  • KJ-3 – There is a high likelihood of a large-scale Russian disinformation operation against Ukraine.


  • KJ-4 – Russia is unlikely to actively begin offensive military operations against Ukraine in Spring of 2021. There is a realistic possibility that Russia will launch large-scale offensive against Ukrainian forces in Summer or Autumn 2021.

Ukraine vs Russia Background

Ukraine vs Russia
Image; Russian occupation in Black Sea region; via The Washington Post)

In 2014, Russia and Ukraine signed the Minsk Agreement, a unilateral agreement to work towards peace in the region. Afterwards the Minsk II agreement took place in February 2015, which introduced new measures to prevent further conflict.

2021 has seen a rapid escalation in Ukraine vs Russia tension. The ceasefire took place from July 2020 until February 2021. However, since then the Organization for OSCE has recorded violations of the ceasefire on both sides.

From the beginning of February 2021, one or two Ukrainian soldiers were killed daily. On the 26th of March 2021, Ukrainian forces reported that 4 personnel had died and 2 were injured, making this the highest daily death toll since the ceasefire was enacted in July 2020. This marks a distinct escalation in armed conflict. Ukraine has asked Western counties to intervene to avoid further escalation. Therefore, it is essential to understand the potential trajectory of the conflict.

Escalating Tensions and Political Aggression

Ukraine vs Russia conflict is escalating rapidly throughout 2021. It is highly likely Russia will continue to show signs of political and military aggression in the coming months:

Russia

Russia has regularly violated Ukrainian airspace to provoke tensions in the region. Ukraine has also accused Russia of escalating political instability. The main intention was to open a political party in occupied areas of Ukraine, “A Just Russia – Patriots – For Truth Party”, which Ukraine has stated is illegitimate.

Pro-Russian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk have been increasing the pace of readiness drills and their strategic defensive positioning. This is in addition to the OSCE multiple pieces of Russian reconnaissance equipment authorities found in Ukraine. This includes a Kasta 2E1 radar system. This information suggests that Russian forces are increasing their geographical and strategic intelligence in the area.

Ukraine

Ukraine has also shown recent signs of political aggression. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, announced that Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council has approved a ‘3 pilar strategy’ to return Crimea. On 20th March 2021, Putin signed a decree which prohibited foreigners to own land in areas that Russia annexed. However, on 20th March 2021, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry declared this declaration null and void.

This comes as Ukraine is increasing its conflict readiness. According to, Ukroboronprom (Kyiv Armored Plant) it has handed off 25 of its order of 31 T-72AMT battle tanks to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. Reports show Ukraine has ordered the repair of multiple armoured vehicles, and more specifically installing a KT-7.62 machinegun on the armoured vehicle “Bison”.

Similarly, Ukrainian forces are holding military exercises on the administrative border, “to increase the level of interaction of the Armed Forces with all components of the security and defence forces of Ukraine. […] It concerns the organization of measures to counteract subversive activity at potentially dangerous infrastructure sites.

Ukraine vs Russia
(Img; Ukrainian armoured vehicle; via Ukrinform)

Pro-Russian Rebels

It is likely that Russia is arming pro-Russian rebels in and around Ukraine, although the Kremlin has denied direct involvement. Russia has continuously denied involvement in conflict within Ukraine and blamed the recent escalation on pro-Russian separatists. There is evidence that Russia is sending Military equipment and instructors and medical equipment to pro-Russian militants in Donbass.

Ukraine vs Russia
(Img; Convoy of tanks pictures near Gorlivka, Ukraine; via @DylanMalyasov on Twitter)

Analysis of these images shows T-72 and T-64BV tanks of Soviet origin. Notably, the T-72 model was introduced in 2013 modernisation programme in Russia and is not known to have been exported at any time, which makes it likely that Russia was involved in the supply. This is in addition to what the Ukrainian Defence ministry describes as deliveries of “new batches of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic warfare stations, and several dozen military off-road vehicles for ‘spearhead’ units have been delivered by road to the 1st and 2nd Army Corps since early March. Over 5,000 tonnes of fuel was delivered by rail.” This is in direct violation of the Minsk II agreement.

Ukraine vs Russia
(Img; Russia force base in Torez in Donetsk, satellite images from January 2020; via @GlasnotGone on Twitter)

Disinformation Operations

There is a high likelihood of a large-scale Russian disinformation operation against Ukraine. Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) announced on 16th March 2021 that it had stopped a large cyberattack on its data, perpetrated by Russian hackers. Whilst Russia has denied this, this is one of such attacks that some have mainly atributed to the FSB.

The Russian International Affairs Council has also been publicly spreading misinformation. They claimed that Ukraine will would escalate the conflict in Spring 2021, which are unsubstantiated claims. As a result, Ukraine has also taken pro-Russia television channels off air.

Offensive Military Operations

Whilst the above illustrates an escalation in political and military tension, Russia is unlikely to actively begin large-scale offensive military operations against Ukraine in Spring 2021. Additionally, it is currently mud season (Rasputitsa), which would make offensive military operations challenging. Russia is not in a strategic position to launch imminent offensive military operations. Evidence of Russian Airborne activity is part of the pre-planned annual military drill rather than preparation for offensive activity.

Similarly, the Ukrainian Defence Ministry refuted reports of tanks in Donbas. Therefore, the misinformation offensive inflated the current capabilities of Russian separatists in occupied regions of Ukraine.

In Ukraine vs Russia case, during Summer and Autumn 2021, there is a realistic possibility that Russia will launch large-scale offensive against Ukrainian forces. Ukraine has stated it will meet force with force, as has Russia. Therefore, Russia is highly likely to be arming pro-Russian separatists in occupied Ukrainian regions, which is troubling and suggests preparation for future conflict.

Intelligence Cutoff Date: 2nd March 2021 (UTC -7)

Author

Abbi Clark

Abbi is a graduate in Chinese Studies from the University of Nottingham, specialising in Asian politics and International Relations. She is currently studying MA Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University London. Her research interests focus on geopolitics and modern defense issues.

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