What does it all mean? Most U.S. officials are highly skeptical that Moscow is planning a move into Ukraine, saying that the maneuvers could be just another round of exercises and planned troop rotations, or an effort to stir up nationalistic passions before upcoming parliamentary elections next month. Still, tensions between Russia and Ukraine have flared in recent weeks after Russia accused Ukraine’s military of killing two Russian soldiers during alleged cross-border raids into Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Over the past two weeks, the Institute for the Study of War’s Kathleen Weinberger says, Russia has deployed new naval, ground, and air units, along with the S-400 air defense system on near Ukraine’s borders. “These new deployments constitute a significant expansion of Russia’s force projection capabilities and may signal preparations for a large-scale military conflict. Russia’s current force posture allows it to threaten or conduct military operations into Ukraine from multiple directions.” Speaking on Ukrainian television Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that "we don't rule out full-scale Russian invasion."
The Donbass. Things are heating up in eastern Ukraine as well, where government officials say they've been on the receiving end of the biggest artillery barrage in a year. August has been a typically violent month since the conflict broke out in 2014, with fighting peaking around the late summer. That pattern seems to be holding once again, with a Ukrainian military spokesman saying troops have seen 500 mortar and 300 artillery rounds fired at them, raising fears that an even more direct Russian intervention could be forthcoming.
Hannah Thoburn writes: The Minsk II agreement has been moribund for some time, and despite the fact that it was Russian aggression which began the conflict more than two years ago, Moscow has persisted in blaming the Ukrainians for the slow implementation. Now, should Russia succeed in portraying Ukraine—rather than Russia—as the problem creator, that beleaguered nation may come to find itself increasingly friendless and, even worse, potentially excluded from future negotiations about its border and its future. Stay tuned. – Hudson Institute
Adrian Karatnycky writes: Russia’s accusations should not be regarded as a new stage in its war of attrition against Ukraine. They are more likely part of the long-running disinformation campaign that has accompanied the country’s military aggression. - Politico
Anders Aslund writes: Putin has taken a big daring step by sacking Sergei Ivanov, but he has so far failed to seize control of the security council, which could oust Putin himself for his adventurous policies. This instability in the Kremlin is likely to impact its Ukraine policy, but at this point it could go either way. The security council might want to contain the adventurous Putin, or Putin might want to use a new small victorious war in Ukraine to seize control over the security council. – Atlantic Council
In a nation struggling with economic troubles and Russian aggression, media professionals suspect they are being targeted in a far-reaching campaign of abuse whose perpetrators, like Sheremet’s unidentified killers, have so far acted with total impunity. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukraine says it thinks Vladimir Putin is planning a new invasion, and it's not hard to see why: the Russian leader has built up troops on its border and resumed the hostile rhetoric that preceded his annexation of Crimea two years ago. But despite appearances, some experts say Putin is more likely seeking advantage through diplomacy than on the battlefield, at least this time around. - Reuters
Ukrainian government forces control the ground in Avdiyivka, but pro-Moscow rebels just across the front line of a two-year separatist conflict dominate the airways, along with stations beamed in from Russia to the east. The result is that people on the Kiev-controlled side can end up flooded - whether they like it or not - by news telling Russia's side of the story, through TV channels that demonize the Ukrainian government and its cause. - Reuters
Daniel Baier writes: The conflict in eastern Ukraine remains a chosen tragedy: an unnecessary war with horrific human costs inflicted by Russian intervention. The road map to end this tragedy—the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements—starts with a complete, sustainable cease-fire, followed by additional security and political steps. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission can do its job only if it has safe, unfettered access on the ground. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Joseph K. Grieboski writes: Russian President Vladimir Putin is globally acknowledged as a war hawk, known for the type of driving military campaigns that led to Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its military support of the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. A lesser-acknowledged aspect of Putin's tactical maneuvering is his mastery of soft-power tactics, influencing Russia's global perception as a power to rival the United States. – The Hill