NATO Intelligence officials reporting on the ground in the Ukrainian capital and US agencies that are monitoring Russian troop movements on the eastern border state that a Russian-led invasion of Ukraine "could take place almost any day now".
One of the many indicators that the movement on the Russian side of the border is not just a cosmetic show of force is the presence of the 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division, one of the elite units of the Russian armed forces.
A list of the type and number of military units and equipment that is being moved towards eastern Ukraine is described as "ominous" and that "the assets being placed on the border are the type that normally do not leave their bases unless you are planning a real military operation," an official told IHS Jane's . Another said that estimates of a "50-50 chance" of a Russian military incursion and a push by armoured columns as far as Kiev: "has now increased to above that 50 per cent level."
Other indicators are the continued build-up of Sukhoi Su-25 squadrons in the Krasnodar region along with the pre-positioning of large stockpiles of air-to-ground munitions. Russian reports indicate that these units have increased the number of their practice sorties and are also conducting training missions at night to demonstrate that an attack on Ukraine would be a blitzkrieg-style, round-the-clock operation.
What concerns the same intelligence observers even more are the increasing indicators that the moves by Russia against Ukraine are not improvised war plans that have been developed based on unfolding events, but have: "been on the shelf of the [Russian] General Staff in one form or another for years," said one source reporting from Moscow.
"The annexation of Crimea was a well-elaborated plan, it is impossible to send Main Intelligence Directorate special forces to a foreign territory without a plan," said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin press spokesman, to the English-language Moscow Times.
Another English-language outlet, the Kyiv Post, unearthed a classified document reportedly issued by Russia's National Security Council, that the now-deposed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych had been designated to be instrumental in a Russian invasion. According to this document, Russian President Vladimir Putin expected him to sign a document on 7 February asking Russia to send troops to Ukraine to protect its constitutional order. Under this scheme more than half of Ukraine's territory, including the city of Kiev, would be occupied and come under Moscow's control in order "to defend Russia's interests" in the region.
What is: "increasingly worrying about the entire Ukrainian adventure that Putin has embarked upon," said a western intelligence officer, "is that he is making these decisions about his moves in Ukraine almost in a vacuum and without any possible consultation with most of his inner circle. One of the deputies in the Russian State Duma, the national parliament, told Russian news outlets that according to his sources the final decision to annex Crimea was made in late January, when it became clear that Yanukovych could not hold on to power and that the decision was made by Putin unilaterally and without even consulting with the all-powerful Presidential Administration at Stariy Ploshad in Moscow.
"Under this kind of decision-making process an invasion [of Ukraine] becomes even more probable," said the same intelligence officer, "and the world is quickly running out of time to prevent it from happening."