In the present crisis over Ukraine, the capabilities of the Russians are clear enough. As Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes of the Wall Street Journal report:
Russian troops massing near Ukraine are actively concealing their positions and establishing supply lines that could be used in a prolonged deployment, ratcheting up concerns that Moscow is preparing for another major incursion and not conducting exercises as it claims, U.S. officials said.
That is the easy part.
Still unknown, however, is Mr. Putin's plan, or whether he has one. "It's really a question of leadership intentions. Who does Putin tell, if anyone, what his plans are?" a senior Obama administration official said. "He's obviously putting things in place in case he wants to go in. The question is whether a political decision has been made to do so.”
As that always eager to be helpful “senior administration official” says:
"What matters is the intent. And we don't have a clear sense of that."
It does not seem likely, however, that the buildup has no purpose other than to keep the troops sharp. This is not strictly a readiness exercise. Perhaps Mr. Putin is setting up a bargain. Quit with the sanctions, let Russia back into the G-8, permit my guys to do their banking and then … I’ll stand down.
Or perhaps he isn’t interested in any of that and simply wants Ukraine and considers this an opportune time to take it.
Seems he has the initiative.