Russia’s military build-up puts Ukraine, NATO on edge


Russian soldiers participate in a military exercise on October 18 in Crimea. (Sergei Malgavko / TASS via Getty Images)

With around 100,000 Russian troops amassed near the border with Ukraine, warships deployed in the nearby Black Sea, and Russian tanks pouring in from the north, fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin is about to launch a invasion continue to grow inside the former Soviet republic and among NATO allies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprising announcement on Friday that he had “received information that a coup d’état is taking place in our country”. According to Zelensky, this would happen as early as Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

Zelensky did not accuse the Kremlin of plotting to overthrow his government, but added that recorded conversations suggest the possible involvement of Rinat Akhmetov, a Moscow-linked oligarch in Ukraine who controls much of the media and of the country’s coal resources. Ahkmetov has furiously denied any role in planning the alleged coup, but some Ukrainians, including investigative journalist and former parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko, believe he is actively working with the Russian president to weaken Ukraine.

“This is the first time that Putin has been linked to an internal political battle, as pro-Russian oligarchs, including Rinat Akhmetov, attempt to destabilize politics from within – to weaken Ukraine on the eve of a possible Russian attack, ”Leshchenko said. Yahoo News.

Analysts diverge on the cause of the turbulent domestic politics in Ukraine, where Zelensky’s approval ratings have plummeted as he tries to reduce the powers of the media and political influence of the oligarchs, but the rise in military power of Russia gives rise to serious concerns.

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Russian troops are massing along the border with Ukraine. (Yahoo News)

The conflict also shows the potential to attract other nations. Belarus, a close ally of the Kremlin, announced Monday that it would engage in war exercises with Russia near its southern border with Ukraine. Russian troops are already settling there, according to Gustav Gressel, senior researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations, who closely follows troop movements. More Russian armed forces are reinforcing those already in occupied Crimea, he said.

“The Russian Air Force has started conducting exercises on the border with Ukraine, training for strikes against key Ukrainian military installations,” Gressel told Yahoo News.

The nuclear launcher submarines that belong to the Russian Northern Fleet, a key deterrent to the United States, have left the port and dispersed, Gressel said, and he believes “humanitarian convoys” to Eastern Ukraine from Russia “is probably supplying ammunition for the next offensive.”

In response to the Russian military build-up at the gates of Ukraine, which is seen as preparation for a possible incursion, NATO has stationed troops in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland and has ships sailing the sea Baltic. At a press conference in Latvia on Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that “Russia has amassed a large and unusual concentration of forces in this region,” measures NATO considered “unprovoked and unexplained,” he said. “We see heavy weapons, artillery, armored units, drones and electronic warfare systems. And tens of thousands of soldiers ready for battle.

The latest measures, a repeat of the military actions taken by Russia in March, as well as other Putin-linked geopolitical fires in the region, test the resolve of the Western Alliance, the European Union and the United States to Ukraine, which Putin continues to uphold, is linked to Russia by history and race.

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, now senior director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, told Yahoo News that Russia’s display of military prowess was in part about fears of Moscow regarding Ukraine’s attempts to enter NATO and the EU. “Putin is trying to intimidate Ukraine and the West, so that Ukraine changes its [pro-Western] politics, ”he said.

Herbst believes Putin is mainly trying to pressure Ukraine to grant autonomy and veto to its mineral-rich eastern regions, where Russia is funding a secret proxy war that killed people. over 13,000 people since 2014. However, it does not. , exclude a full attack. “But if Putin does this, he will face two huge problems,” Herbst said. “One, there will be a major western response, [including] truly crippling sanctions. And there will be a lot of dead Russian soldiers. According to Russian opinion polls, Putin’s citizens don’t want the Russians to fight in Ukraine, he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a suit and tie, at a video conference meeting of the Russian Security Council.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mikhail Metzel / TASS via Getty Images)

Herbst, who is backing additional US military aid to Ukraine, applauds recent measures taken by the Biden administration, including sending diplomats to Moscow and sending public warnings to Putin from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as the convening of meetings with the Europeans to work out possible sanctions. But he believes the administration made a serious mistake earlier this year in dropping sanctions imposed by Congress on Nord Stream 2, Russia’s new gas pipeline that connects its gas fields directly to Germany.

The deal, Herbst noted, allowed Russia to stop using Ukraine’s gas pipeline which was historically the most used by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company. Allowing the completion of NS2 has given “Putin an ace”, allowing him to further manipulate gas supplies to Europe, which is in the compromised position of depending on Russian gas.

“Biden’s lifting of these sanctions was a mistake,” said Agnieszka Legucka, senior researcher at the Polish Institute for International Affairs in Warsaw. “So now we are only seeing the consequences of this misunderstanding of Putin by the Biden administration, which wanted to defuse the situation near the border with Ukraine last March. By meeting with Putin and lifting the sanctions, thus giving the pipeline a boost, “they thought they could neutralize Russia and Putin because the United States would rather focus on China,” added Legucka.

Putin, who appears to be allying with China – the two countries recently participated in war games off the coast of Taiwan – is showing that he will not simply accept Western demands. It is manipulating Russian gas supplies to Europe during a shortage, caused in part by Gazprom’s refusal to fill its gas storage tanks in Western Europe. Not only does Putin appear to cut gas and coal from Ukraine, but he continues to promise more gas to Europe but does not deliver it, while Kremlin spokesmen say the shortage could be alleviated when the Germany will finally certify Nord Stream 2, a process that was delayed earlier this month. .

While Putin’s apparent desire is to distract attention from his own issues at home, where his popularity is waning and his imprisonment (and alleged poisoning) of Alexei Navalny and other opposition figures is sparking anti-Putin protests, Russia’s current posture may also come in response to the result of cracks in the Western system.

“He smells like blood in the water,” said Roland Freudenstein, vice president of Globsec, a non-partisan think tank based in Slovakia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures as he speaks as he sits at a table in Kiev, Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / document via Reuters)

With Biden’s own popularity waning in the United States, Europe reeling from soaring electricity prices and skyrocketing COVID-19 rates, and the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the On the political scene, Ukraine is seen as particularly vulnerable.

“Putin may think that if he ever wants to massively invade Ukraine, the time has come because of this beautiful constellation of Western weakness,” said Freudenstein, who sees what is currently happening in Eastern Europe as one of the most difficult times on the continent for decades. , recalling the preparations for WWI and WWII.

Some analysts fear, he said, that Russia’s measures will provoke “military escalations reminiscent of those of August 1914 which degenerated into a war that no one wanted.” Others, he said, fear that Europe, which relies on Russia’s natural gas, might be tempted to appease Putin with Ukraine, or its eastern part, in the same way as Ukraine. Western Europe appeased Adolf Hitler in 1939, handing over Czechoslovakia to him. “They say if you give in to the autocrat, you will only make him greedier,” Freudenstein said.

David Stulík, head of the Eastern Europe program at the Center for European Values ​​for Security Policy in Prague, believes that what is happening is just that Putin is testing the West, and after seeing the dedication from the West to help Ukraine, Putin is likely to back down, unless for now. “I don’t think he wants to have an open confrontation with the West that would lead to a larger military confrontation. Because he, his relatives, his associates, they all have their immense fortunes – and they don’t want to risk losing all of their assets and property in the West, so I don’t think they’re willing to openly challenge the West, ”Stulík said. These people are smart, he added, but they are not fundamentalists, they are not radical. These are people who are very good at play chess. So they think strategically, but they are not suicidal.


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