Russia and Ukraine conflict: why have Putin’s troops gathered on the Ukrainan border - and will they invade?

Concerns over an imminent invasion have been dampened after President Biden called the Russian president this week.

TOPSHOT - A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a position on the frontline with Russia backed separatists near small city of Marinka, Donetsk region on April 12, 2021. - Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in clashes with pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine's war-torn east, its military said on April 12, 2021, as Kiev again accused Moscow of massing tens of thousands of soldiers on its border. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a position on the frontline with Russia backed separatists near small city of Marinka, Donetsk region on April 12, 2021. - Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in clashes with pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine's war-torn east, its military said on April 12, 2021, as Kiev again accused Moscow of massing tens of thousands of soldiers on its border. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Concerns over imminent military conflict between Russia and the Ukraine have subsided somewhat, following a call between the Russian premier and new US president Joe Biden.

Tensions have been escalating in recent months, due to a build of Russian troops and military equipment along the eastern Ukranian border and in Crimea.

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While some analysts saw this as a possible sign of an imminent Russian invasion, most now agree that following a phone-call between the Russian and US leaders which lead to a meeting being planned for “the coming months”, any immediate threat of conflict has been dispelled.

The US had previously sent two warships to the region in response to Russia’s mobilisation, as President Joe Biden reaffirmed his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty in a statement earlier this month.

While western nations have expressed concern at the build-up of troops, Russian sources insist that it “does not pose a threat to anyone”.

What is happening on the Ukraine-Russia border?

Since mid-March analysts and the Ukranian government have reported a build-up of Russian troops on its borders, including tanks and artillery units.

The reports suggest that as many as 80,000 units are now stationed in Crimea and near the eastern border area of Ukraine, where separatists backed by Russia have been engaged in a long-running conflict with the Ukrainian government.

Ukranian president Volodtmyr Zelenskiy said in a statement last week that “muscle-flexing in the form of military exercises and possible provocations along the border are traditional Russian games”.

The Ukranian Foreign Minister has called Russia’s actions the largest escalation in recent years.

The Kremlin says that as these troops are moving within Russian territory the matter is an “internal affair”.

A spokesperson for the Russian government told the Russia-1 television network that “nobody is planning to move toward war”.

Dmitry Peskov said the country has a right to move troops within its own borders, adding “it should not worry anyone and does not pose a threat to anyone”.

Why are Russia and Ukraine in conflict?

In 2014, after a pro-western revolution in Ukraine which saw the president overthrown, the Russian federation annexed - or took over - Crimea, a part of the Ukraine which is primarily home to Russian speakers.

At the same time, Russian-backed separatists in a part of Ukraine known as the Donbass region began a brutal civil war by declaring independence from the newly pro-European Ukranian government.

Since then, tensions in the region have remained, despite a ceasefire which was brokered in 2015, with peace talks ongoing but thought to be unproductive.

Why is Russia moving troops to these areas now?

While some analysts have suggested that the actions of Russia could be interpreted as a sign that an invasion is forthcoming, most see this as fairly unlikely at present.

It is thought to be more likely that the movements are a way for Vladimir Putin to strengthen his hand before upcoming elections in the country, as well as issuing a challenge to new US president, Joe Biden.

Some also believe Mr Putin will hope that the show of strength will test the west’s commitment to supporting Ukraine, and place further pressure on the country to weaken their demands in ongoing negotiations.

Though a mass-invasion is unlikely, the buildup of troops could well lead to increased clashes in border regions, where dozens of Ukranian soldiers have been killed so far this year.