Massive Military Buildup Along The Ukrainian Border: Is Vladimir Putin, the world's most intriguing new super-villain, going to invade Ukraine proper? It sure looks like he is preparing to.
At first, some thought it was just talk and rumor, but then reports began to pour infrom all along Russia's western border area with Ukraine describing an avalanche of military hardware is rapidly accumulating in the area. These include various tanks, BMPs, Mi-24 "Hind" attack helicopters, SU-27 "Flanker" fighter jets, additional SU-25 "Frogfoot" attack aircraft (the Ruskie analogue for the A-10) and troops, lots and lots of troops, among many other forms of former hammer and sickle intimidation.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry is stating that they estimate that there are 80,000 troops, 14o combat aircraft, 270 advanced tanks, and almost 400 artillery pieces that have formed up along the Russian side of the Russian-Ukrainian border. If those numbers are even close to accurate, they sure sound like an invasion force to me. This is especially true when compare our troop levels during the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether this force is deployed for sheer intimidation and for coercion purposes only, or for a full scale assault, is yet to be seen, and we may not truly know the answer to that question until Putin's forces either withdraw or invade.
In all honesty, beyond general decency, respect for the sovereignty of other nations and peace on earth, why wouldn't he invade? There really isn't much keeping him from taking at least the southeastern portion of Ukraine. He may have to eat some sanctions from the Europeans and the US, and be deemed a totalitarian warmonger, which he may even find to be a complement, but he knows full well that European and US leadership have no appetite to answer a potential invitation to World War III. It really is a win-win for Putin in so many ways. Obviously, he thinks looking tough and strong will help entice the nations he is courting for that Eurasian Union, or as I call it "USSR light," project of his, and he will get a highly strategic piece of land right in NATO's backyard, one which the majority of residents will probably welcome his belligerent land-grab with glee.
Finally, a Russian invasion of greater Ukraine is a textbook play in a classical military sense. Putin grabbed Crimea, thus securing his strategically imperative Black Sea Fleet headquarters, taking back what was Russia's before the fall of the soviet union (sort of), as well as creating a massive beachhead so that he could open up a southern front for an invasion of the Ukrainian "mainland," not to mention the economic and natural resources incentives. This, combined with a front on the eastern border of Ukraine, results in the potential for a classic pincer maneuver which is really a strategic necessity when it comes to overwhelming an enemy and ensuring success on a large scale battlefield.
Russia Sends Su-27s To Belarus: In a response to the US sending a half dozen F-15C fighters to Lithuania and a dozen F-16CMs to Poland, the Kremlin has dispatched six SU-27s and a couple support aircraft to the lands of Russia's old friend, Belarus.
I have a feeling this is just the start of Russian combat aircraft flowing into Belarus as geographically that country's location is perfect for acting as a northern buffer against NATO... In other words, we need to keep an eye on what Russian gear ends up on Belarus's flightlines as it could be a good indicator as to Putin's imminent intentions regarding Ukraine in general.
Mercenaries At Work In Ukraine?: There are detailed pictures and firsthand accounts going around that a Blackwater-like, soldiers for hire, outfit is actively working in Ukraine for pro-Russian forces. The pictures are compelling and the soldiers are outfitted unlike any Russian special operators I have ever seen, and their actions seems strangely out of place. Ukrainian press claims that three hundred of these mercenaries mysteriously arrived in the capitol city Kiev earlier last week.
So who are these operators and could they really have originated from a US firm? Possibly, but most likely not. Cool looking spec-ops gear is readily available online for starters. None-the-less, they could be anyone, from full-fledged foreign mercenaries to Russian importers trying to stir up anti-American sentiment as part of a larger and very active disinformation campaign.
Land Mines Laid Along Crimea's Northern Border?: It would appear that Russian forces, excuse me, I mean the "Crimean Militia," have installed landmines just beyond the border between Ukraine and a now nearly fully annexed Crimea. The pictures that support these claims clearly show a line of disturbed soil along a stretch of farmland near the town Chonhar, a rural community on the eastern narrow land-bridge connecting Crimea and Ukraine. Along with a newly staked border and freshly disturbed ground, there are even bright red signs setup meant to warn people that the area in question is indeed an active landmine field. One local said he had no idea the grounds had been mined until his dog hit one and blew up!
Although landmines are a horrific weapon system that has caused more innocent casualties than almost any other, mining a key funnel point for land forces to cross is a relevant strategy. Even a limited mining operation would create a strong deterrence against civilians or paramilitary forces attempting to bypass Russia's well fortified border checkpoints.
Photos: Su-27 & Putin with binoculars- AP, Map- Alex Bakharev,