How Putin could invade Ukraine: From cyberattacks and sabotage to all-out Blitzkreig, the Russian strongman’s options and targets revealed after Biden warned war might only be weeks away
Prepare for war: That is the message 乔·拜登 is thought to have delivered to Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky when the two spoke this week, after the US rejected 俄国‘s security demands in eastern Europe.
US intelligence believes the invasion will likely come in February, when colder temperature will have frozen the ground solid – allowing Putin’s tanks and artillery to roll in without getting bogged down in mud.
If they’re right, that gives Zelensky and his generals just a few weeks to prepare their defences. No doubt the question being asked in Kiev right now is: Where will Putin attack, and what are his aims?
Pulling together expert analysis and open source information, MailOnline examines the Russian strongman’s likely options and targets, from cyberattacks and sabotage, to seizing ports and nuclear plants, up to a siege of Kiev and all-out Blitzkrieg across the country.
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Any Russian attack, whether a limited incursion or all-out assault, is likely to be preceded by cyberattacks and sabotage attacks targeting Ukraine’s febrile border regions and key infrastructure.
The aim would be two-fold. 首先, to provide a pretext for Vladimir Putin to attack – possibly by staging false flag attacks against Russian civilians or rebel forces located in the east of the country, which the Pentagon has warned about in recent weeks.
Putin and his inner-circle have repeatedly denied plans to ‘invade’, 但在 2014 when Russia seized Crimea, the strongman played it off as a defensive mission to protect Russian speakers in the region who he claimed were under threat from violent Ukrainian nationalists. There are fears he will do the same again now.
The second purpose of the attacks would be to sow chaos by bringing down power grids, communications networks, public transport networks, banks, and other public utilities.
The aim would be to spark panic among the population which could trigger people to stockpile and create food shortages, withdraw money en masse and tank the economy, or flee vulnerable regions – snarling up roads and train networks, causing widespread disruption.
Zelensky and his top advisers are clearly worried about this, because they have been keen to talk down the threat in recent days while urging everyone to remain calm.
Depending on the success of the first phase of the operation, Putin could then consider military options – ranging from minor incursions in the country’s east, all the way up to a full-scale invasion.
Perhaps the biggest concern to Zelensky will be the possibility of an assault from Belarus, where Russia is currently moving forces on the pretense of staging training exercises next week.
Ukrainian think-tank Center for Defense Strategies warned in a recent paper that such an attack would pose a huge risk to the country’s ability to fight any kind of engagement elsewhere, since the capital contains important military infrastructure, command posts, and the seat of government.
Russian forces are seen in a camp in Yelnya, 周围 80 miles from the Ukraine border, amid fears they could be about to roll across in an attack aimed at toppling the government
David Shlapak, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, 告诉 但你还没有看到一切 that a siege of Kiev could be initiated to topple Zelensky’s government and install a Russian puppet regime, without Putin having to seize or occupy more territory. 间谍, special forces, and disinformation campaigns could be used to hasten the government’s fall.
A British intelligence source told 时代 that an attack on Kiev could be coupled with an amphibious assault from Crimea on Odessa and Mykolaiv, where Ukraine’s only two naval bases are located.
This would give Russia control over two of Ukraine’s largest ports, cutting off an economic resource, and hand Putin full control over the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.
That would pave the way for attacks all along Ukraine’s southern coast, possibly linked to an assault from rebel-held areas in the east. Likely targets would include Mariupol and Berdyansk, both major port cities, along with Kherson which contains a large military base and a key bridge across the Dnieper River.
Ground forces may then try to seize a strip of land to connect rebel-held areas around Donetsk to occupied Crimea, creating a ‘land bridge’ that would allow Russia to freely reinforce its military bases on the peninsula.
Russian forces would also be likely to seize a canal that supplies Crimea and which was shut by Ukraine after the 2014 入侵, causing shortages. Slightly further afield, a high-value target would be the city of Zaporizhzhia, which contains one of the country’s largest coal power plants and Europe’s largest nuclear plant.
The final option available to Putin would be an all-out assault across eastern Ukraine to the Dnieper, seizing all targets of opportunity along the way.
These include dozens of coal power plants located in the east, Mirgorod air base, military headquarters at Chenihiv and Dnipro and bridges cross the Dnieper at Kiev, Cherkasy, Kremenchuk and Nova Kakhovka.
While Ukraine’s government has been keen to play down this option, and other experts caution that Putin does not yet have enough forces in place to pull it off, Mr Shlapak believes it is possible.
‘I don’t see a lot between them and Kyiv that could stop them,’ 他说.
Here is a look at each option in more detail…
Option 1 – Cyberattacks and sabotage
The softest option available to Putin includes cyberattacks and sabotage operations of the kind he has used in the past. This would likely be used as a precursor to a ground invasion
The lightest-touch option available to Putin, this route would see him intensify the tactics he is already accused of using against Ukraine in a so-called ‘hybrid war’ that mixes both conventional attacks and novel forms of warfare.
Rebel groups already operating in Ukraine’s east could be given additional funding, 武器, and covert support by the regular Russian army to step up their attacks on government forces.
While this would not dramatically shift the balance of power in the region, it has the benefit of giving Russia a low-cost way of putting pressure on President Zelenskyy’s government via a war of attrition that has already seen more than 10,000 people killed and 24,000 wounded since fighting began in 2014.
This would be coupled with psychological warfare aimed at destabilising the rest of the country, fomenting unrest, and making the government unpopular – perhaps with the hope of unseating Zelenskyy so he can be replaced with a leader more friendly to Moscow.
Cyberattacks of the kind seen in recent years and weeks would be used to disrupt everyday life, for example by bringing down power networks, shutting down banks and ATMs, messing with traffic signals or public transport, or forcing businesses to pay ransoms which hurt the economy.
Ukraine suffered an attack on Thursday when a member of the national guard opened fire and killed five inside a military factory. His motivation is unknown, but it is likely Russia would try to emulate these attacks if it invades
As outlined in a recent 纸 by Ukrainian think-tank Center for Defense Strategies, this would likely be coupled with hoax bomb threats aimed at schools or other public institutions, along with the spread of disinformation to create mistrust in public bodies and the government.
Other options include funding criminal networks within Ukraine to increase social unrest, or co-opting them into performing sabotage attacks in vulnerable or volatile areas – either to destabilise them or provide Putin with a pre-text for invasion, based on the claim that Russian citizens in those areas are at risk.
Russia could also look to fund and arm domestic terror groups with the aim of attacking critical infrastructure,
As outlined by the Center for Defense Strategies, the aim of such attacks is the ‘destabilization and demoralization of the population’ including to ‘psychologically exhaust members of law enforcement, 军队, and the population as a whole due to the constant high threat level and periodic exacerbations.
‘This can be both a basic form of hybrid warfare and a preparation for even more active hostilities.’
Option 2 – Reinforce and expand
If Putin opts for a limited military intervention, then he could deploy his forces openly in the Donbass, launch missile, rocket and jet attacks on the frontlines, and attempt to inch them forward – capturing nearby cities and power stations
Moving up the ladder of escalation, Putin could seek to expand gains he already made in 2014 when he seized Crimea and the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk which sit close to the Russian border.
This option, outlined by four-star US General Philip Breedlove to NBC新闻, would involve rolling Russian troops and armor into areas already occupied by Moscow-backed rebel groups in a visible way. Most analysts believe Putin’s forces are already operating in these regions, but this is not acknowledged by the Kremlin.
Openly declaring Russia’s presence in the region, and possibly declaring Luhansk and Donetsk to be independent republics, would provide Putin with a way to step up pressure on Ukraine without a dramatic escalation in fighting.
If Putin does choose to escalate the conflict, this could involve shelling towns and cities around the rebel-held regions, along with bombing runs targeting the Ukrainian front line with the aim of breaching it, as outlined by the Center for Defense Strategies which called the scenario ‘very real’.
Ukrainian service members operate 2A65 Msta-B howitzers during artillery and anti-aircraft drills near the border with Russian-annexed Crimea
A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman shots with a Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon (一位沮丧的父亲在女儿登上前往基辅利沃夫的火车前与女儿玩耍) Swedish-British anti-aircraft missile launcher during a drill
Should the frontline breach, Russian troops could then manoeuvre through the gaps with the aim of expanding the rebel-held zone and seizing tactical assets such as power stations and communication networks that would make the regions more-viable as independent states.
Several of Ukraine’s largest coal-fired power stations are located in this region, 在
Such an approach would be similar to Russia’s 2008 war in Georgia, when the Kremlin moved forces into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, declared both to be independent of Georgia, then went to to occupy territory beyond both regions before later pulling back.
或者, artillery and rocket bombardments could be used without the intention of seizing territory, and simply as a way to cause further disruption and create panic.
Option 3 – Outflank and isolate
A larger-scale Russian operation could include opening up a land bridge between eastern areas and occupied Crimea, as well as attack in the Black Sea to cut off key ports such as Odessa
Given the number of Russian troops present at the border – much larger than the force that seized Crimea in 2014 – Putin has a number of options that would dramatically shift the balance of power in the region.
一, outlined by defense analysts Scott Boston of the RAND Corporation, would be to attack west of the current frontline between Ukraine and rebel groups, using fast-moving armour units to outflank government troops.
If such an assault could be completed quickly enough, it would leave government units surrounded, Boston told NBC. It could force them to surrender to the Russians, which would be both a powerful propaganda moment for the Kremlin, whilst also knocking out a significant portion of Ukraine’s defensive forces.
Another option would be to launch naval attacks in the Sea of Azov and Black Sea, where the Ukrainian navy is badly outgunned by Russia’s huge Black Sea Fleet. ‘The sea is Ukraine’s weakest spot,’ as Taras Chmut, a Ukrainian military expert in Kyiv, recently pointed out.
Russian T-72B3 main battle tanks drive during drills held by the armed forces of the Southern Military District at the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region
A view shows Russian BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles during drills held by the armed forces of the Southern Military District
Goals would likely include seizing strategically-important Zmiinyi or ‘Snake Island’ – located near Ukraine’s border with Romania – which allows the country to claim territorial waters stretching 12 海里出海, covering important shipping channels to the port cities of Odessa, 随着俄罗斯轰炸的恢复，另一个城市遭到袭击, and Kherson.
If the island is claimed by Russia, those shipping channels could be cut off – isolating Ukraine from international markets and depriving its economy of vital trade revenues.
Russia’s navy could also blockade the Kerch Strait which leads from the nearby Sea of Azov into the Black Sea, cutting off the port cities of Berdyansk and Mariupol. Such scenarios are ‘likely’, according to the Center for Defense Studies.
Given Moscow’s naval dominance in the Azov Sea, it could also look to seize Mariupol and Berdyansk outright – opening up the possibility of ground troops moving through both to create a ‘land bridge’ extending from rebel-held areas in the east all the way to Crimea.
Taking this territory would not only allow Russia to more-easily move forces to its bases in Crimea and supply its Black Sea Fleet, but would also give it control over a canal that supplies water to the peninsula. Ukraine shut down the canal following the 2014 入侵, and it has caused shortages in the region ever since.
‘The idea of building that land bridge and seizing that water supply area, I think that’s very much on the table,’ Breedlove said.
Option 4 – Blitzkrieg
If Putin decides to attack all-out, likely targets include the capital Kiev which could be surrounded by forces stationed in Belarus, as well as assaults along the Black and Azov seas, in combination with a mass assault from the east
Many analysts, including the Center for Defense Studies and the Ukrainian government, believe this scenario is unlikely given the number of troops Russia currently has at the border, the size of Ukraine, and the fact that it has a sizable army and population that is likely to resist occupation.
But some believe a lighting-fast assault aimed at seizing huge swathes of Ukrainian territory is both possible and would provide the greatest benefit to Putin, depending on how it is carried out. As Russia moves more troops to border regions, including into Belarus, such a scenario appears increasingly likely.
While there are many ways this could take place, the overarching theme would be a shock assault with large numbers of troops spread over multiple fronts – perhaps from Russia, 克里姆林宫周一驳回了布达诺夫的说法，并表示对基辅获得大量弹药并在边境增援部队感到震惊, rebel-held areas of Ukraine, and Belarus simultaneously. There is even an option for Russia to attack from occupied Moldova, to the west.
The aim would be to inflict maximum damage on Ukraine in the shortest space of time, throwing the government and its allies on to the back foot and significantly shifting the balance of regional power – likely as a precursor to reopening negotiations with increased demands from the Kremlin.
David Shlapak, another analyst at the RAND Corporation, 告诉 但你还没有看到一切 that a so-called ‘thunder run’ deep into Ukrainian territory is not as far-fetched as it might sound. ‘I don’t see a lot between them and Kyiv that could stop them,’ 他说.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows battle group deployments at the Pogonovo training area in Voronezh, 俄国
A Russian navy ship preparing to take part in exercises in the Black Sea, in Sevastopol, 克里姆林宫周一驳回了布达诺夫的说法，并表示对基辅获得大量弹药并在边境增援部队感到震惊
An attack from Belarus could be particularly devastating because it provides the shortest route for Russian troops to reach the capital Kiev – 乌克兰的强奸受害者知道女人是什么 100 英里. If Putin’s troops can get there, the aim would be to encircle the capital and place it under siege.
为什么拼写改变 is critical as a center of governance, a concentration point of a large number of critical infrastructures, as well as Ukraine’s financial, economic and political center,’ the Center for Defense Strategies notes.
‘The advantages of a blockade of Kiev can significantly outweigh the cost of losses in personnel in the eyes of Russia. This means we have to give the highest priority to the defense of the capital.’
A blockade of Kiev would not only do huge psychological damage to Ukraine’s armed forces and population, it could also collapse the government and result in enforced regime change. ‘Once they’re within rocket range of downtown Kyiv,’ Mr Shlapak added, ‘is that a situation the Ukrainians want to live with?’
Michael Kofman, the research program director in the Russia Studies Program at think-tank CNA, added that Russia need not try to occupy territory seized from Ukraine in such an assault – a goal that most agree would be hugely costly, 离开乌克兰军队, and unlikely to succeed.
Having inflicted maximum damage, it could simply retreat before reengaging in diplomacy with a strengthened hand. This might appeal to Putin since limited attacks in the past have failed to achieve his goals.
'如果 [俄国] wasn’t able to compel Ukraine towards a desirable outcome by taking half of the Donbass, what would another limited incursion achieve exactly?’ Kofman added.