Feb 22, 2022 - World

5 key questions that could determine the shape of Russia's invasion

The darker area shows the rebel-held regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, that Putin recognized. Data: Mapbox/OSCE. Map: Will Chase/Axios
The darker area shows the rebel-held regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, that Putin recognized. Data: Mapbox/OSCE. Map: Will Chase/Axios

In a stunning, historically revisionist national address Monday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that Ukraine has no right to be its own country — and that it's Moscow's duty to protect Russian speakers in Ukrainian territory from a supposed deadly threat posed by Kyiv.

Why it matters: Putin's formal recognition of two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine — followed swiftly by the deployment of Russian "peacekeepers" — was immediately condemned as a violation of the UN charter and a pretext to launch a war of aggression against Ukraine.

  • Rather than providing long-sought answers about Putin's intentions and the global response to them, the moves opened up additional questions.

1. Will Putin's "peacekeeping force" deploy only to the territory already controlled by the separatists, or attempt to secure the much larger areas in Ukraine claimed by the two "republics"?

  • Either scenario could spark a broader conflict. The latter would be a clear declaration of war.

2. How severe and well-coordinated will the initial U.S. and European sanctions be, and what would actually trigger the "massive" sanctions package the U.S., EU and G7 have promised if Putin invades?

  • A senior U.S. official suggested yesterday that a Russian deployment to the separatist-held territories, where undeclared Russian troops have operated since 2014, was insufficient to trigger the broader sanctions.

3. What will Ukraine's response be, beyond the current attempts to rally international support and convene emergency meetings at the UN and elsewhere?

  • In a televised address after Putin's announcements, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine doesn't want war and won't fall for Putin's provocations — but also won't hand over the contested Donbas region in the east.
  • If Russian troops approach or push beyond the "line of control" in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian forces would have to decide whether to pull back or stand and fight a military superpower.

4. How will China respond?

  • Beijing and Moscow have been flaunting their closer relationship. But China has long stressed the importance of sovereignty and territorial integrity — a point Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated Saturday when discussing Ukraine.

5. Will Russia's military maneuvers be limited to the east for the time being, or will U.S. warnings that Putin's planning a full-scale invasion targeting Kyiv soon come to fruition?

  • Some analysts argued that yesterday's gambit was the peak of Putin’s escalation. Many others contended it was just one step in a much larger military operation.
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