The growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine are set to spiral into conflict within hours, according to American intelligence agencies. So will Russia invade Ukraine and what form of attack might it launch?
After weeks of deepening tensions at the Ukraine border with Russia, intelligence sources have warned Kremlin chiefs are set to order an attack on Kyiv within hours.
American agencies have said Russian forces could strike at the Ukrainian capital at 3am local time with an air barrage, while at the same time launching amphibious warships to bombard the nation’s southern coastline.
However, there are reports some of Moscow’s troops have been stood down, while last-ditch diplomatic moves are still ongoing.
Here, Mirror defense editor Chris Hughes runs through what’s happening between Russia and the Ukraine, and why.
Will Russia invade Ukraine?
Even Vladimir Putin may not have made his mind up yet. A self-inflicted attack on Russian separatists, disguised as an attack by Ukraine, is likely. This may lead to a false retaliation by Moscow but a full-scale invasion is less likely. Even with more than 200,000 troops on hand, there are not enough for an all-out storming. The next few days are crucial.
Why is this happening?
The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a ruthless success for Putin. But he wants more and claims he is concerned about NATO expanding eastwards. He wants guarantees NATO will not sign partnerships with Russia’s neighbours.
How well-defended is Ukraine?
Its army is well-motivated, well-trained and has plans to tackle Russian troops through guerrilla warfare, flanking attacks and smashing supply lines – but Ukraine could not dominate the air.
What form of attack might Russia launch?
It could be a special forces raid, assassination of Ukrainian leaders, a cyber attack, a conventional land attack or even an amphibious incursion. But Putin will want to keep Russian casualties low as he fears consequences at home.
What should we expect in the next few days?
A huge cyber assault against a partner of the US, like the UK, is very likely but we could be just one diplomatic error or trigger-happy pilot or artillery soldier away from a major outbreak of violence.
What would be the consequences of a war or invasion in Ukraine?
Putin will retain power in Russia, millions of refugees could head for Europe, tens of thousands of civilians possibly killed. Or if NATO and the West gets involved, the Third World War.