Warnings of a wider war as analysts fear a quick occupation of Ukraine

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A former NATO commander has expressed concern about a conflagration beyond Ukraine as analysts said Russia could move quickly to attack kyiv after launching an invasion of Ukraine.

General Sir Richard Shirreff said Britain could soon be at war with Russia because any incursion into NATO territory would lead to Britain’s direct involvement in the conflict.

“There are no surprises and there is deep sadness and a terrible sense of horror at what is about to unfold for the people of Ukraine,” he said.

Britain was among countries preparing a response after weeks of Western threats and an escalation in sanctions in recent days has failed to deter a Russian invasion.

General Shirreff, NATO’s former deputy supreme commander, said Britain had to “take the worst” of Russia’s intentions.

“Russians don’t hang around. They will look to establish an overwhelming force,” he told BBC Radio 4. Today program.

“There will be multiple attacks from different axes…a full-scale military offensive to occupy Ukraine.

“I think we have to assume that this is not about Russia biting into part of Ukraine – for example, by establishing a land corridor in Crimea – but about a full-scale military offensive to occupy Ukraine. ‘Ukraine.”

General Shirreff said it was “quite plausible” that Russian President Vladimir Putin could aim to revive the Soviet Union. He said that if Russia steps aside on NATO territory, the whole alliance will be at war.

Asked if Britain could expect to take a direct part in the current military confrontation, he said: “It is absolutely possible that we as a nation will be at war with Russia, because if Russia is stepping into NATO territory, we are all at war with Russia, each and every member of the NATO alliance.

“Clause 5 [of the Nato alliance] says an attack on one is an attack on all, so we need to fundamentally change our mindset, and that’s why I say our defense starts in the UK at NATO borders.

Franz-Stefan Gady, a military expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, predicted that Russian forces would “try everything to encircle and crush Ukrainian forces in several rapid pincer movements”.

He said Russian troops were fighting under the shield of a nuclear deterrent after Mr Putin spoke ominously of “horrifying consequences” for anyone who waged war on Russia.

Mr Putin described Russia as one of the strongest nuclear powers and boasted of its range of advanced weapons.

“Ukrainian forces will have to fight as best they can well-organized delaying battles, the most difficult type of tactical ground operations,” Gady said.

“Without training, they can quickly lead to chaotic retreats and break their fighting spirit. Breaking this spirit is the main objective of rapid Russian operations.

Ukrainian border guards said Russian forces were attacking the country on multiple fronts after entering from Belarus, Russia and annexed Crimea. The Ukrainian government said bombings were taking place across the country.

The Kremlin had earlier said rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine had asked Moscow for military aid against kyiv, days after Russia recognized separatist governments there.

Alex Plitsas, an Iraq war veteran and former US security official, said there were enough Russian troops to surround Ukrainian forces to the east.

Those Ukrainian forces would then be “cut off from the resupply and defense of kyiv” if Russia launched an assault on the capital, Plitsas said.

Although Western leaders have promised diplomatic retaliation against Russia, they have said they will not wage war on behalf of Ukraine because it is not a member of NATO.

Josh Manning, a former US intelligence analyst, told Australian television he hoped Ukraine’s fighting spirit in its home territory would be superior to that of Russian forces drafted in from distant barracks.

“My hope is that they fight hard and overcome what is going to be an assault of brutal proportions,” he said.

Russia “will arrive with a power, shock and awe the world hasn’t seen in a long time.”

Updated: February 24, 2022, 10:40 a.m.

Michael A. Bynum