The presence of Russian forces along Ukraine's borders is growing. So too is the speculation, reports the New York Times, which is quick to state that few in the West or in Ukraine believe Russia will actually invade eastern Ukraine, which has been the scene of a 7-year-long war with Russia-backed separatists. But the moves, which include the sighting of Russian amphibious assault ships in the Azov Sea last week, make clear that Russia is up to something. The Wall Street Journal reports much the same, referencing satellite photos it reviewed that show Su-30 warplanes stationed at an air base in Crimea that weren't there just weeks ago. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell on Monday said more than 100,000 Russian troops are currently present on Ukrainian borders and in Crimea, which he called "the highest military deployment of the Russian army on the Ukrainian borders ever," per the AP.
The speculation is plentiful. Axios cites a leaked document from Ukraine's ministry of defense that suggests Russia could be trying to "distract from domestic problems ahead of legislative elections in September ... counter NATO exercises and bully Ukraine into reversing its 'positive political developments'" or, yes, poke the bear so that it can justify an invasion. The Times suggests it could be the precursor to "Russia's possible recognition or annexation of the separatist-held territories in eastern Ukraine." The Journal says Vladimir Putin could be trying to "send a message" to President Biden, or pressure Ukraine into reversing its decision to cut off the flow of water to Crimea. All the theorizing leaves many eager to listen for clues in Putin's annual state-of-the-nation address Wednesday. (Biden had a tense phone call with Putin last week.)