Russia has amassed at least 70 percent of the military power it would need to launch a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials told lawmakers and European partners in recent days. Biden administration officials held closed meetings with lawmakers in the House and Senate Thursday and said that if Moscow chose to go ahead, Russian forces could quickly surround and capture Kyiv and remove the country’s president. According to the latest intelligence assessments, a full invasion of Ukraine could kill as many as 50,000 civilians, 25,000 members of the Ukrainian military, and 10,000 Russian forces. The invasion could also spark a refugee crisis in Europe with anywhere from one million to five million people fleeing, many of whom would pour into Poland.
The intelligence assessments still say it’s unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a final decision to invade but the ground is expected to reach peak freeze by around Feb. 15. Meanwhile, Russia continues to build up its combat forces along the border. As of Friday, there 83 Russian battalion tactical groups, consisting of anywhere from 750 to 1,000 soldiers each, in position for an attack. That marks a sharp increase from 60 two weeks ago. An additional 14 battalion tactical groups are on their way to the border. U.S. intelligence estimates Russia would want anywhere between 110 and 130 battalion tactical groups in place to carry out a full-scale invasion.
With so many troops in place some sort of action may be inevitable, some officials warn. “Our worry would be that you don’t park battle groups … on the border of another country twice and do nothing,” a European official told the Washington Post in reference to the troop buildup last year. “I think that’s the real fear that I have. [Putin’s] now put them all out there. If he does nothing again … what does that say to the wider international community about the might of Russia?” Whether Putin actually goes through with a full-scale invasion though is a subject of much debate in European and U.S. circles. Some European officials say Putin could choose to start small and gauge the global reaction first.
Russia quickly pushed back against the assessments, characterizing them as part of a pattern. “Madness and scaremongering continues. … what if we would say that US could seize London in a week and cause 300K civilian deaths?” Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, tweeted early Sunday morning.