Russia has built up sufficient military resources to penetrate Ukrainian territory. But he is unlikely to be able to take the whole country and, more importantly, hold it for any significant period, given the prospects of fierce armed resistance from Ukraine. But he has a number of options from which to launch a measured foray.
East: Russia could easily launch a massive operation from the eastern province of Donbass where it supports local militias. Most of its military reinforcement is located in this area. The problem is that the main cities that Moscow might try to take, Kharkiv and Dnipro, are heavily populated and would be difficult to capture.
South: The territories of the Black Sea, or Prichernomory, would be a tempting target for Russian strategists. Seizing this area would cut Ukraine off from its access to the sea and connect Russian forces in Donbass to Transnistria – a Russian-occupied region of Moldova in western Ukraine.
Russia could launch its eastern forces as well as troops prepositioned in Crimea. Analysts say coastal defenses west of Crimea are quite exposed. But Russia would have to seize the cities of Mariupol, in the east, and Odessa, in the west, where the population would very probably resist the Russian occupation vigorously.
North: Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is less than 100 km from the border with Belarus, where Russia has troops conducting joint exercises. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – an autocrat who retains power thanks to Moscow’s support – recently declared that his country “will not stand aside if war breaks out”.
West: Perhaps the most surprising direction from which another invasion of Ukraine could come. The Pentagon recently raised concerns about a Kremlin false flag operation from Transnistria – a Russian-speaking region of Moldova where Moscow has kept troops since the collapse of the Soviet Union.