OPINION - Vladimir Putin has kept the world guessing — but his forces seem ready for action against Ukraine

Vladimir Putin (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo/AP) (AP)
Vladimir Putin (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo/AP) (AP)

In the tactics of psyops — psychological operations, the propaganda wars of words and messing with opponents’ minds — Vladimir Putin has been winning in the latest round of his battle for Ukraine and making Russia great again.

In marathon phone calls and conversations with the French President across an absurdly lengthy table, he has managed to keep the world guessing. But now Russian forces seem prepared for action.

Now moving in from Belarus towards Kharkiv, in the Donbas enclave, and along the Black and Azov seas, the Russians are bombed up and ready to go. In the past few days artillery and missile units have moved in from remote Siberia. More telling perhaps are reports that blood transfusion stocks have been delivered to forward casualty clearing stations. Action could now be less than 48 hours away. Airliners have been diverted from Ukrainian air space and Russian naval forces have warned shipping away from the Azov Sea.

In the next two days, a flurry of meetings are scheduled including a request from Ukraine’s government to meet Putin’s representatives to find just what Russia intends now.

The Russian forces are carrying out their familiar tactic of maskirovka — a frenzy of different feints from different directions, to conceal the intended final lethal punch until the last minute. The first sign of a main assault is likely to be a sudden news blackout, which could come very soon.

But a major attack is a huge gamble for Putin, who is supreme at the tactics of modern hybrid war, but with a poor record as a long-term strategist.

His forces are not configured for a long-term occupation, nor a bloody guerrilla war. He can threaten to turn off Russia’s gas, on which so much of EU Europe depends. But this would cause chaos on markets and stock exchanges, in which Russia too would be a victim.

Even Putin’s mastery of fake news via social media could eventually put him and his commanders in the dock — and they would instantly be judged by an internet court of millions.