Updated: Apr 15, 2021
FAST THINKING: Ominous signs in Ukraine
Report from the Atlantic Council 02.04.21
JUST IN: Russia is massing military forces on its border with Ukraine and in Crimea, sparking fears of renewed aggression and leading to US President Joe Biden’s first direct phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Moscow is even warning NATO to not deploy troops should the conflict escalate. Seven years after Russia first invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, how did we get to this new point of peril? And what should we expect next? We checked in with our Eurasia Center, which is tracking the situation closely.
TODAY’S EXPERT RAPID REACTION COURTESY OF: Melinda Haring (@melindaharing): Deputy director of the Eurasia Center Alexander Vershbow (@ARVershbow): Distinguished fellow, former US ambassador to Russia, and former deputy secretary general of NATO John Herbst (@JohnEdHerbst): Director of the Eurasia Center and former US ambassador to Ukraine
HOW WE GOT HERE
· Melinda reminds us that this new point of peril isn’t so new: “Russian-controlled forces have occupied 7 percent of Ukraine ever since” the 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, “while the world mostly shrugged and moved on. By controlling a sizable chunk of eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin can turn up the intensity whenever he likes.” · And now is apparently one of those times, she adds: “In recent days, Moscow has moved more weapons and troops around, ramped up hostilities, and let loose a volley of nasty threats." WHAT TO MAKE OF MOSCOW’S MOVES
· “The Russians may only be testing the reaction” of the new Biden administration, Alexander says, “but the possibility of a new land grab cannot be ruled out.” · The recent case of Nagorno-Karabakh could be instructive here, he adds: After Russia's success in sending peacekeepers to the disputed region “following Azerbaijan's victory over Armenia last November, Russia may be laying the ground for the overt deployment of ‘peacekeepers’ in Donbas rather than the seizure of additional territory. The purported mission would be to protect Russian citizens in the occupied territories (who are actually Ukrainian citizens ‘passportized’ since Zelenskyy's election in 2019).” · John tells us that Russia’s military buildup has been accompanied by allegations from Russian officials that the Ukrainian government is planning aggressive acts and chatter in “state-friendly” Russian media about “the need to annex territory in eastern Ukraine.” · The provocative statements from Russia are “more likely bluff than prelude to further aggression,” he says, but the US government “cannot take this for granted.” WHAT THE US CAN DO
· There is some encouraging news, John notes: The Biden administration has recognized these alarming developments and “conducted an extraordinary number of calls this week to demonstrate support for Ukraine in the face of Kremlin intimidation”—not just Biden’s conversation with Zelenskyy, but also calls between the US national security advisor and the chief of staff to the Ukrainian president, the US secretary of state and the Ukrainian foreign minister, and the US secretary of defense and the Ukrainian defense minister. “To make sure Moscow gets it,” the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff called both his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts, he adds. · While “this phone diplomacy has given Moscow reason not to strike,” John thinks the Biden administration should take at least one more step by conveying to the Kremlin either privately or publicly that if it makes a move in Ukraine “to the water canal north of Crimea or to Mariupol, or to introduce ‘peacekeepers’ into occupied Donbas, the US will sanction [the Russian state bank] Vnesheconombank and perhaps a second Russian bank. This will give Putin further pause before escalating his current war on Ukraine.” · Melinda agrees that the Biden administration can’t stop at phone diplomacy: “Washington needs to tell Moscow that if it doesn’t leave the Donbas in six months, the United States will levy more sanctions and begin visa bans on top Russian officials and their children.” She also advises the US government to appoint a senior director for Russia at the National Security Council—stat!—and to insist that the United States be part of any high-level negotiations to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Dive deep on Ukraine → Sign up for the Atlantic Council's Fast Thinking news alerts SUBSCRIBE
EU Concern Over Ukraine Is Not Enough
The European Union needs to send a strong and unified message regarding tensions over Ukraine.
By Sebastian Schäffer for Fair Observer
Apr 13, 2021
Hostilities between Ukraine and Russia reached an alarming level last week when further Russian troops were deployed on the Ukrainian border. Despite a statement from the Kremlin describing the act as “not threatening,” Kyiv accused Moscow of moving thousands of soldiers to its northern and eastern borders and on the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula to create an intimidating atmosphere in violation of the Minsk agreements and the ceasefire in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed it is Kyiv and NATO countries that are increasing their armed forces in Ukraine and the Black Sea close to Russia’s borders.
Nevertheless, the Russian Federation is following its usual scheme and is ready to seize any opportunity that arises. There may be three possible reasons behind these new developments: 1) Moscow wants to send a message to the US administration after recent statements regarding President Vladimir Putin; 2) the Russians are seeking a pretext to install their “peacekeepers” in Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine; or 3) the Kremlin wants to use the water crisis in Crimea to intervene and build a corridor through the Donbass region.
Assessing the Tensions Between Ukraine and Russia
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