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U.S. Warns of Grim Toll if Putin Pursues Full Invasion of Ukraine

Mr. Putin has additionally deployed Particular Operations forces — some 1,500 troops — close to and even contained in the Ukrainian border, the officers informed lawmakers. These troops, they mentioned, work carefully with the Russian army intelligence company, the G.R.U., which has previously directed cyber and different assaults on foes.

European officers are typically extra skeptical that Mr. Putin would attempt to take the nation in a large-scale invasion. Some imagine that he would search to take the Donbas area of jap Ukraine, the place a grinding proxy warfare has been underway since 2014.

One other idea is that Mr. Putin may increase that operation in an effort to annex all of jap Ukraine, as much as the Dnieper River. Alongside the best way he may attempt to decimate Ukrainian troops in that a part of the nation, roughly half of the Ukrainian army. That might incite panic within the western a part of Ukraine — the place resistance to Russia is likely to be highest — and immediate individuals to flee the nation. Over time, that might lead prime authorities officers to flee or to attempt to rule from exile.

American and European officers have made clear {that a} bodily assault over the borders of Ukraine would result in monumental sanctions on Russia’s banks, commerce restrictions on semiconductors and different high-tech objects and the freezing of the accounts of Russian oligarchs and leaders. However there may be far much less unanimity, as President Biden himself has acknowledged, about how to answer a “minor incursion.” And even what a minor incursion is likely to be.

European and American officers fear that Mr. Putin would possibly attempt to stage a coup in Kyiv. One other chance is a cyberattack devised by Russia that tries to convey down elements or all of Ukraine’s electrical and communications infrastructure, much like the 2015 and 2016 assaults on elements of the nation’s electrical grid.

European officers say it’s unclear how the Western allies would reply to such an assault. In the event that they believed that the cyberoperations have been a face-saving method for Mr. Putin to behave after which retreat, they word, there is likely to be a temptation to de-escalate and never search to impose main sanctions, particularly if there have been few human casualties. Alternatively, a cyberattack could possibly be a prelude to a full invasion, primarily reducing off Ukraine’s capacity to speak or observe the place Russian forces have been coming from.

Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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