Vladimir Putin has several options for going after Ukraine short of an out-and-out ground invasion. The Washington Post tries to lay them out in this article.
For example, Putin could launch air attacks, perhaps combined with cyber-attacks, and seek Ukraine’s capitulation that way. Or he could step up the war of subversion he’s been waging in eastern portions of Ukraine for some time.
The Post quotes two analysts who doubt Russia will invade Ukraine. Says one:
This ‘minor incursion, major incursion’ is all part of Western fears and fantasies and has no relevance to the thinking in the Kremlin or the plans of the [Russian] General Staff. The idea behind Russia’s moves, in my view, is not to wage war against Ukraine but to use a demonstration of military power to bring the United States to the negotiating table to discuss security issues in Europe, including those related to Ukraine.
However, another analyst finds this relatively optimistic view implausible given events on the ground:
It looks like they’ve deployed units from every military district, including the Northern Fleet, to near Ukraine. That’s unprecedented. They’re moving equipment from not far from the border of North Korea all the way to Belarus. They’re doing a ton of things that are not standard. What they’re doing is not something they’ve done before, so we’re in uncharted waters.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Russian occupation of Ukraine. The same analyst thinks Russia will launch an overwhelming attack to destroy Ukraine’s military, inflict casualties, and swiftly force the Ukrainian government to accede to the Kremlin’s demands.
But Ukraine might not roll over. In that case, Putin would have little choice other than to occupy the country.
What does the Biden administration think Russia will do? The State Department has ordered families of U.S. Embassy personnel in Ukraine to begin evacuating the country as soon as tomorrow. It is also expected to encourage Americans to begin leaving Ukraine by commercial flights, while such flights are still available.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Team Biden thinks a ferocious Russian attack on Ukraine is more likely than not. But clearly, it considers such an attack a definite possibility.
It’s hard for me to see how anyone could conclude otherwise.