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Putin on the Ritz: Vlad’s Flashy Military Exercises May Be Hiding More Sinister Plans.

Insiders Fear Putin Smuggling Troops Over Border to Assist Pro-Kremlin Rebels.

Photo for: Putin on the Ritz: Vlad’s Flashy Military Exercises May Be Hiding More Sinister Plans.

All is not well in Ukraine – or maybe it is. It all depends on who you ask.

Commercial flights are being canceled. Shipments of weapons from NATO members are pouring in, and more than 130,000 Russian troops have amassed along the Russian-Ukraine border.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has reassured President Biden that the country is under “safe and reliable protection, but that hasn’t stopped a multitude of foreign countries from calling their nationals home. The message: get out now.

“We understand all the risks, we understand that there are risks,” Zelenskyy said in a broadcast Saturday. “If you, or anyone else, has additional information regarding a 100% Russian invasion starting on the 16th, please forward that information to us.”

While Zelenskyy continues to play it cool, former Ukrainian government officials aren’t as confident that Russia is just running military exercises for the heck of it; amassing enough troops to completely wipe out Ukrainian cities with little-to-no effort.

“The conditions for military action against Ukraine are greater now than at any time in the past several weeks, analysts and former Ukrainian government officials told The Daily Beast, as the Russian military amasses troops along virtually every border with the Eastern European nation. Any military action, including a limited invasion and annexation of the contested eastern regions currently controlled by pro-Russian separatists, would be timed to three simultaneous events later this month, those officials said. Meanwhile, experts pointed to a day in late February which could be used as cover for the maneuvering of military hardware.”

According to the Daily Beast, February 20th is the eighth anniversary of “the deadliest day of the Euromaidan protests, and is ‘a huge trigger’ which could lead foreign actors to ‘use the protests as a cover for direct action,’ said a former Ukrainian defense ministry official.

“It is the potential date for internal destabilization which could be a chance to create opportunities for some military actions,” the official said. “If Russia is thinking about some large-scale military escalation, Donbas would be a much better location for them and they could relocate their troops there” after joint Russian-Belarusian military training concludes on Feb. 20, coinciding with the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

“Putin loves making moves around these key events,” Emily Channell-Justice, the Director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, told The Daily Beast. Channell-Justice also said the buildup could also be a preface to “Russian intervention into Belarus to secure that country as an autocracy, friendly to Russia.”

Both U.S. and Ukrainian insiders worry that Russian heavy weaponry may find its way from training exercises in Belarus into neighboring regions like Dondas, where it may be used to arm pro-Russian rebels.

“We’re not going to give Russia the opportunity to conduct a surprise here, to spring something on Ukraine or the world,” Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday, about the U.S. warnings.

But that’s the thing about surprises, Jake —you don’t see them coming.