The Irish Times view on Russia-Ukraine tensions: sabre rattling resumes

Kiev warns that there are now more than 90,000 Russian ground troops massed on its border

The United States last week briefed allies and Ukraine on intelligence "strongly indicating" that Moscow is preparing for a possible invasion of Ukraine. Kiev warns that there are now more than 90,000 Russian ground troops massed on its border although the Kremlin dismisses such claims as "alarmist", accusing Nato of inflaming tensions in the region with its own unplanned joint exercises.

President Vladimir Putin claims "provocation", speaking of his concerns at unannounced Nato drills in the Black Sea involving a "powerful naval group" and planes carrying strategic nuclear weapons, a "serious challenge" for Russia.

The Russian troop build-up, Ukrainian officials say, is near the breakaway Donbass region in Ukraine’s east, where two Moscow-backed enclaves have fought a proxy war with Kiev since 2014, and in other areas to Ukraine’s northeast and near Crimea, annexed in 2014.

Moscow already faces sanctions over its illegal seizure of Crimea and would certainly see those extended if it invaded Ukraine, which would be unlikely to be able to repulse an attack militarily without Nato support. That will not be forthcoming. It is difficult to see, however, what Russia would hope to gain from an invasion. The troop build-up itself contributes to familiar Russian destabilisation tactics that help to keep Nato allies permanently on edge. Whether or not Nato allies believe that Russia is actually going to invade, they feel they have no alternative but to match the Russians’ escalation in kind.


And there is also new evidence confirming the continued Russian engagement with the Ukrainian rebel troops in the Donbass. A new study of weapons and ammunition used in the war there, funded by the European Union and the German government, shows Russia has been systematically fanning the conflict with arms shipments in breach of international law. Attempts by France last week to reengage Moscow in the internationally-supported but largely dormant "Minsk" peace process on Ukraine were unsuccessful. Instead, the sabre-rattling continues.