The 10-day military exercises in Belarus, which started today, are assessed by the Ukrainian military as preparation for military action. Lieutenant General Igor Romanenko, ex-Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, believes that Belarus is one of the two most convenient bridgeheads for Russia.
How dangerous could those exercises that are taking place in Belarus be for Ukraine?
This is the final stage of the formation of the strike grouping that they have deployed around Ukraine. The redeployment of troops and weapons to Belarus is the completion of the formation of the Northern Front for us. We have to assess the situation as a whole, and understand that 10,000 additional troops have already been redeployed from the South to the Crimea, and three landing ships are now entering the Black Sea each - from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
And up to 1,000 marines are accommodated on these ships. That is, the formation of the southern flank of the strike grouping is coming to an end as well, and as for the north, we have to consider the issues of justification of military invasion here as well - so to speak, they are looking for casus belli. They have experience - they are guided by Hitler, who in 1939 arranged the war with Poland through provocation, and the war with Finland - Russia considers itself the successor of the USSR not only in the international legal aspect, but also in military matters and provocations. We can see that in the local wars they've been fighting lately with Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine.
That is why the "father" of theoretical and practical development of hybrid warfare, the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General Gerasimov went there. They planned all these circumstances. The issues connected with logistics are being finalized. Although the main groupings are 150-200 kilometers away. That is, in the first place, if they begin to conduct a blitzkrieg, they rely on the number that is available there. That is the amount of fuel and lubricants, ammunition, and then step by step, Putin always looks at how it will go. That is if the troops will move on, they will have to be pulled up. But they don't have enough means of mobility, so they are also considering the use of helicopters. This, of course, is expensive, but if they suddenly need to, they will decide this way.
And what could be the casus belli?
In terms of justification, it is clear that in the East - in Donbas - the version that has already been worked out can be implemented: that is, for the Ukrainian side to shell civilian settlements and infrastructure, to claim that they attacked Russian citizens and Russian-speaking residents of Donbass. From the east, this is a well-trodden situation. This option is known, but it is possible that there will be and on January 26 -27 came Putin's cook Prigozhin, who leads the strategic PMC . They have started to gather "Chekaashnye" fighters from other places, from Africa, that is they are preparing the issues that should ensure these provocative actions - to organize battles at the expense of Ukraine and then to accuse us.
But another version is even more optimal - it will allow them to complete the exercises with military actions, and, accordingly, the Russian and Belorussian forces will be united in blood - the question of provocation from the North. Why Gerasimov flew there - to organize provocative actions. Say, they attacked the allied Belarus from Ukraine and start actions from the North in defense of Belarus. The more so because of the convenient location of the border with Belarus - first of all our front will be long - more than a thousand kilometers; and secondly from there it is only 160 km to Kiev. So, there will be movement from Belarus, and then we have a direct border with the Russian Federation in the northeast. These are the directions that are relevant.
When is the approximate deadline? Biden warned about February.
Apparently, Xi Jinping has forbidden Putin to start a war until after the Olympics. Most likely, the grouping in the North can be increased to 30 thousand during this exercise, during which time the troops should be added together, between their own forces and those of the Belarusians. In the south - the corresponding funds can be concentrated for landing operations in Odessa, Nikolaev, Kherson, and Mariupol. And in terms of timing it is somewhere like that. Zakharova has already made a statement that in order to achieve de-escalation and withdrawal of troops, they require Ukraine to return all the weapons that were transferred to it, the instructors withdrawn and the non-aligned status.
I think it will probably be possible to prevent all of this, but, just for the moment. And so in principle the threat persists. Because the main question is not solved - Putin needs to include Ukraine in the sphere of his political influence, and this question is not solved. He wants to put the leadership of Ukraine in a subordinate position to him.
How much roughly has Russia spent on these military preparations around Ukraine?
Well, I believe they've spent up to $10 billion this year - for the maintenance of the same ORDLO, for drills, for deployment.
Do they expect to get that money back?
At the expense of looting Ukraine.
So, no chance that they will accept the loss of this money and have to go to war?
Putin is an old czar, so he provided for all of these costs, so he focused all of this up to a year again on himself, on his actions. He wasn't a hand-wringer, an outcast, and now he's got everybody reacting, getting involved - the U.S.,and NATO. Plus, thanks to these actions, they raised the price to $2,000 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, and now they've lowered it to $1,000. In addition, it caused economic damage to Ukraine. Our investors have withdrawn investments up to 12-15 billion dollars, we have economic losses due to this. They, of course, also have economic losses, but in this way they affect Ukraine. Our hryvnia is shaky, and in order to stabilize it, we took out several billion dollars from our reserves. This is a considerable amount of money for us. So it is not irrevocable for him, and at the expense of gas, at the expense of sale at such prices he still receives compensation, though, I think that strategically he will lose anyway, but you see, he does it all the same.
Are there any forces in Russia who would not want this war?
We need to see the reaction of the military - although former, but a military man, Colonel General Ivashov, and Khodorenok, in their speeches, write that this threatens the collapse of Russia. The military doesn't really want war and understands it, including the current generals, but it is manageable, but they show what they are waiting for. They also said in Chechnya that there would be casualties, which is not so fast. They have fought in many places and they also understood that there would be losses, but they started the invasion nevertheless. In Georgia they planned their military offensive in the same way - that they would move fast. That is, they act in this way, and there is a danger.