The size of the Russian military build-up near Ukrainian border and the possible scale of war have both been repeatedly claimed to be most significant since World War II. For example (emphasis is mine):

Reuters (February 24):

How Biden handles the crisis, which Western officials fear could spiral into the bloodiest European conflict since World War Two, is expected to have profound implications for his political fortunes and U.S. relations with the world

Politico (February 24):

His pronouncement at 5:45 a.m. Moscow time — during a simultaneous U.N. Security Council meeting in New York, at which Western nations pleaded for Putin to exercise restraint and de-escalate — could spark the largest land war in Europe since World War II, one that could result in the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian troops and civilians, and spark a refugee crisis.

CNBC quoting Joe Biden (January 25)

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden cast a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine in stark historical terms Tuesday, saying, “it would be the largest invasion since World War II.”

BBC quoting Boris Johnson (February 21)

Evidence suggests Russia is planning "the biggest war in Europe since 1945", Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

What is the basis for such assessment? For example, in terms of the scale of fighting, the level of NATO involvement and the loss of life, this war (even if counting from 2014) is still well behind the Yugoslav wars in the last decade of the XXth century.


  • The question is about fact-checking (regarding the preceding Russian military build-up) and the probabilistic/intelligence/military assessment of the outcome of the ongoing military conflict.

Yugoslav wars
I have already mentioned the Yugoslav wars, which resulted in 130,000-140,000 deaths and millions of displaced persons. In Croatian war alone the numbers of combatants for the two sides peaked at 200,000 and 145,000 - which is comparable (or greater) than the alleged Russian pre-war build'up. The war in eastern Ukraine (since 2014) has resulted in about 14,000 casualties so far.

Czechoslovakia in 1968
Another interesting example is the Warsow Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968: while the number of casualties was relatively small (about two hundred deaths), the initial troops build-up of 250,000 exceeded the reported Russian strength in the current crisis. At its peak the invading force was about half a million strong.

Thus, the claims regarding the Russian pre-war build-up are questionable on the factual basis, while the projections regarding the expected number of casualties are likely exaggerated.

Similar questions (requests for reliable information
Is "100,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian border" a rare occurrence?
What's the basis for preparations to imminent Russian invasion into Ukraine?
How close is supposed "Russian build-up" to Ukrainian border?

  • 3
    Maybe wait with this question a bit more. You might have to update it every day otherwise, especially the last paragraph. Also hopefully you realized the use of "could" in the cited texts. Speculating about some ongoing event extending to the future isn't useful here. Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 9:54
  • 2
    I don't understand how we're meant to read the minds of these journalists to answer this q Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 10:06
  • 4
    "probabilistically it can be a great exaggeration" Probabilistically doesn't work. We don't have a hundred Earths and can repeat the experiment that often and then see in how many cases how many people die. We don't know what could (there again I used the word) have happened. We don't even know what will have happened. That's why I advocate to wait more to know at least this. My personal guess is that they simply went for the size and military prowess of the opposing armies and that is also enough for me to say that this is a terribly grave situation. Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 10:18
  • 2
    Voting to close: what will happen depends on Putin's actions, we are now asked to second-guess journalists who second-guess him.
    – o.m.
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 11:12
  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because this is not a question
    – kandi
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


I believe that the question is out of scope for this board, it is too close to second-guessing the internal motivations of the actors. If it is not out of scope:

Read the exact words.

The quotes talk about "in Europe," which has, at times, a fuzzy border. There is a frequent perception/bias in western Europe to dismiss the Caucasus as *not quite European," whatever the geographic definition may say. The Algerian departments of France were also out.

That leaves, mostly, the Balkan wars as a comparison. Counting numbers of troops (using the media reports of close to 200,000 Russian regulars), this is highly likely to be bigger. As for casualties, we cannot know yet. It depebds on how long Ukrainian troops fight. It also depends on how the Balkan conflicts are counted, one big mess or several wars.

  • As I pointed out in the question and in the comments, the question is about factchecking the troop numbers as well as the intelligence/military assessment for the situation. I have now also included Joe Biden and Boris Johnson statements, as well as explictly expanded the information regarding the Yugoslav wars.
    – Morisco
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 12:10

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