President Vladimir Putin is being watched closely by experts and officials who fear Russia might be planning a military escalation with its neighbor Ukraine.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops have reportedly gathered at the border with Ukraine, and experts fear Russia could be about to stage a repeat of its 2014 invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which prompted global outrage and sanctions on Moscow.
“We all should be very worried, to be honest, I do share this assessment,” Michal Baranowski, director and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw Office, told CNBC when asked if Russia could be about to embark upon military action against Ukraine, describing Russia’s highly tense relationship with Ukraine as being a conflict “under the threshold of war.”
“This assessment is shared by many here in Warsaw and in Washington, D.C.,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Wednesday, adding “we are seeing very significant buildup in threats on the border with Ukraine. So it’s really a key moment for the West to step up pressure against Putin.”
Last week, U.S. officials reportedly warned their European counterparts that Russia could be weighing a potential invasion of Ukraine. The Defense Ministry in Kyiv said in early November that about 90,000 troops were massing on the border while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last week that there were nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers at the border, Reuters reported.
For his part, when asked whether Russia is plotting a military invasion in Ukraine, Putin dismissed such a notion as “alarmist” in an interview with Rossiya 1 last weekend.
Russia has also sought to play down the movements of its troops, with Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, saying last week that “the movement of troops on our territory shouldn’t be a cause for anyone’s concern,” The Associated Press reported. CNBC has contacted Russia’s Defense Ministry for further comment.