The likelihood of a Russian invasion of Ukraine will be the highest during the Zapad 2021 military exercises, believes Andrei Illarionov, a former adviser to Russian President Putin.
The offensive has more chances to be implemented once NATO maneuvers in Europe are over in July and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipe construction is completed, which could also be the case within the given timeframe, Illarionov told a panel show on 1+1 TV.
"And the highest probability – not a guarantee, but a probability – arises during the Zapad-2021 maneuvers," Illarionov said, speaking of the possible invasion dates.
"But I'd also like to draw your attention to the location: it's very likely North Tavria, where the bed passes of the North Crimea Canal leading to Crimea. The Russian side has been persistently pursuing a propaganda campaign claiming a 'humanitarian disaster' that's developing in Crimea over severed freshwater supplies. This territory is easy enough to occupy, and then it is very easy to hold ground there," suggests Illarionov.
He noted that "this can provide Crimea with fresh water, while the Yuzhnoukrainska Nuclear Power Plant and a number of other power stations are located there, which today generate a third of Ukraine's electricity volume."
"In addition, the far-western part [of the area] is the Kinburn Spit, which saw many battles in the 18-19 centuries. If the invaders come there, the entire Dnipro-Bug estuary will be shut [for Ukraine]. And then the two of Ukraine's largest ports – Kherson and Mykolaiv – will halt operations, together with the shipyards. If the aggressor does what the Russian media have been writing about, namely, captures an 80-kilometer strip from Ochakiv to Odesa, this poses a real threat of Ukraine losing access to the Black Sea," added the ex-adviser to Putin.
People's Deputy with the ruling Servant of the People party faction, head of the Subcommittee on state security and defense at the parliamentary Committee on national security, defense and intelligence, Iryna Vereshchuk, decried such suggestions as "intimidation."
"I believe that this is an irrelevant presentation of information. If we had an authorized representative of the Ministry of Defense or the Armed Forces of Ukraine here in the studio, who would explain to those living in the south, those anxious after hearing such words, with the information presented in such a way, I'd call this discussion. But instead, it looks like an element of propaganda," MP said.
- Earlier, Ukrainian officials publicly admitted that the threat of Russian invasion remains persistent despite the Russian defense ministry's claim of withdrawing forces after the completion of snap military exercises along the border with Ukraine and in the occupied Crimea.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian troops could return "at any moment", urging Ukrainian military to keep their guard up. "The fact the [Russian troops are pulling back does not mean the Army should not be ready for the possibility of those troops returning to our borders any moment," Zelensky told Ukrainian soldiers while visiting defense positions near the de-facto border with the occupied Crimean peninsula.
- Analysts with the Digital Forensic Research Lab have released satellite imagery showing Russian military hardware amassed in the occupied Crimea.
- According to the experts, even if Russia follows through fully on its promises, the peninsula will still be increasingly militarized with the planned permanent deployment of the 56th Air Assault Brigade to Feodosia, where the brigade will be reformed into a regiment.