The following was my summing-up of the Ukraine conflict seven years ago:
“News from Ukraine and Ukraine-related developments are not encouraging. The Minsk cease-fire remains fragile. Political and economic difficulties facing Ukraine show no sign of abating. The Government does not appear strong and determined enough. There has been no progress on the level of autonomy to be recognized to the separatist regions. The conflict between “federalization” and “decentralization” continues. Ukraine troops are now being trained by American officers. Russia’s naval deployments and air activity are becoming increasingly reminiscent of the Cold War. NATO is holding joint exercises in Poland, Lithuania, the US in Georgia. The Treaty on Alliance and Integration between Russia and South Ossetia has been submitted to the State Duma for ratification. The flow of immigrants and asylum seekers from Ukraine into EU countries is on the rise… The West continues to see Mr. Putin as an unpredictable leader determined not to allow Ukraine to chart its future. He says that he wants as close interaction as possible with the US, based on equal rights and mutual respect of interests and positions of each other. Both the West and Russia seemingly desire to put the Ukraine conflict behind and move forward but words and deeds do not match.” [i]
It started with satellite photos of the Russian military buildup near Ukraine in early November 2021. Ever since, Russia and the West have been fighting a war of nerves with frenetic diplomacy accompanied by mutual accusations of spreading misinformation, allegations of false-flag operations, Western intelligence reports and statements at the highest levels predicting an imminent invasion, and Russian denials.
Last week, Presidents Macron and Putin had a phone call. According to the Kremlin readout of the call, “at the French side’s initiative”, President Putin once again drew attention to the absence of a substantive response from the United States and NATO to the Russian initiatives. He also stressed the reluctance of the leading Western powers to encourage the Kyiv authorities to implement the Minsk agreements.
Since there is no likelihood of Russia and the West coming to an agreement soon on the Russian proposals for a new security architecture in Eurasia, the standoff at Ukraine’s borders has become a stress test for all the involved, but primarily for the people and the leadership of Ukraine.
The Russia-West standoff over Ukraine continues. The US and its European allies are warning of a serious risk of a Russian offensive against Ukraine. Moscow is claiming that the US is trying to pull Russia into an armed conflict over Ukraine that Russia does not want. The US is sending troops to Germany, Poland, and Romania. The West is waiting for the Russian response to its written proposals which Moscow says focus only on secondary issues. Lines of argument and underlying rationale are getting increasingly blurred and confusing.
On January 26, the US and NATO delivered their written responses to Russia’s security demands in Eurasia. A day later, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the media that the responses offer grounds for serious talks only on matters of secondary importance; that there is no positive response to the main issue which is continued NATO enlargement towards the east and the deployment of strike weapons that can pose a threat to Russian territory.
In mid-December 2021, Russia handed the West two draft documents, “Agreement on Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization”[i] and “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Security Guarantees”[ii].
In their phone call of December 30, Presidents Biden and Putin agreed to the sequence of Strategic Stability Dialogue starting on the 9th and 10th in Geneva, a NATO-Russia Council (NRC) meeting on the 12th, and an OSCE meeting on the 13th. The three sets of talks are now behind.
With the New Year and Christmas celebrations behind, the world is back to the realities of the day. And the new year’s first surprise was the turmoil in Kazakhstan.
In their phone call of December 30, Presidents Biden and Putin had agreed to the sequence of Strategic Stability Dialogue starting on the 9th and 10th in Geneva, a NATO-Russia Council conversation on the 12th, and an OSCE meeting on the 13th.
Thus, during the past week, Secretary Blinken and senior officials of the US State Department were engaged in intensive telephone diplomacy with Washington’s allies and friends across the globe to secure a broad front against Russia in Ukraine. The readout of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s call with Georgian Foreign Minister Zalkaliani said, they “emphasized the need to uphold the right of sovereign nations to choose their own security arrangements and support Georgia and Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of continued Russian aggression and discussed how to enhance peace and security in Europe.”