Russia’s large-scale military exercises on the Ukrainian border are unlikely to be the prelude to an invasion, but they do serve a purpose beyond training: They’re a message to NATO that the Kremlin does not intend to accept Ukraine’s current status as a pro-western state. More importantly these exercises need to be understood as Moscow preparing for a potential conflict in the future.
Russia’s recent buildup of forces near the Ukrainian border, ostensibly a training exercise, has led to fears of the return of “Great Power Competition” between Moscow and the West. The development of new military facilities that could become permanent and new vehicle staging areas near existing military facilities has aroused particular concern among observers. But several key factors indicate that it is unlikely Russia is currently preparing to mount an offensive into Ukraine. Nevertheless, the posturing is likely an attempt to apply political pressure to a geopolitically significant region for Russia, which has been trading sanctions and diplomatic punches with Ukraine and the West in general. The threat of Russia exercising its military capabilities remains a dominant lever in Eastern Europe, where control over Ukraine and Belarus and Russian concerns over encroachment by NATO are at play.