Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting on Feb. 1 to discuss restoring residential infrastructure in the annexed region of Crimea, as well as Belgorod, Bryansk, and Kursk oblasts following what he called a "shelling by Neo-Nazi formations." The Institute for the Study of War said in its latest report that Putin's focus on the supposed danger of Ukrainian shelling of border regions likely serves a two-fold purpose.
Firstly, it furthers an information operation intended to "frame the war in Ukraine as an existential threat to Russian citizens" to generate domestic support for a protracted war.
Secondly, the experts note, Putin may also be setting conditions for escalated cross-border raids to distract and disperse Ukrainian forces from critical axes of advance by pinning them to northeastern border areas.
"Russian invasion from Belarus is exceedingly unlikely, and the ongoing information operation to pin Ukrainian troops against the northern Ukraine-Belarus border seems to be faltering as Ukrainian officials increasingly assess that this contingency is improbable," the institute found.
"The threat of cross-border raids from Belgorod, Bryansk, and Kursk oblasts into northern and northeastern Ukraine is likely an attempt to force Ukraine to deploy limited elements to these areas to protect against such attacks, thus dispersing Ukrainian troops to an extent in advance of a likely Russian offensive operation in the coming months," ISW wrote.