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#Analize / Mălina Mîndruțescu

Talks on Ukraine are collapsing

Last week we witnessed a diplomatic marathon, as Western efforts tried to negotiate with Russia over tensions on its border with Ukraine.

US and Russian officials met in Geneva early last week in a highly anticipated, high stakes negotiation session over Ukraine. The talks continued on Wednesday, when Russian officials met representatives of the United States and its NATO allies in Brussels, and on Thursday at a gathering of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-nation group that includes Ukraine as well as Russia and the US.

Ukraine, a NATO ally (but not member) continues to have over 100,000 Russian forces amassed on three sides of its border and the Kremlin is showing no sign of retreating. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants written commitment that Western forces and NATO will not enlarge onto the region, nor expand further East, as the Kremlin has plans of growing its sphere of influence in the region, according to a report by The New York Times.

While, at the beginning of this crisis, the White House vehemently opposed any scenario in which it would assist Ukraine, if Russia intervened, US officials are now threatening to throw in their weight behind Ukraine, as an attack by Russia looks increasingly more likely.

If Western forces don’t oblige, President Putin has even subtly hinted that Russia could place nuclear missiles close to the US coastline, while White House sources reported that Moscow might send saboteurs to stage an incident in Ukraine, in order to create a pretext for invasion.

putin biden

Photo source: New York Times


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a period the Russian President seems to be nostalgic over, Vladimir Putin has proved to be increasingly more interested in finding the right ideological glue to create and hold together an alternate alliance to the Western, pro-NATO, US and democracy norm that is prevalent in most of the world and in ex-Soviet countries nowadays as well.

The events of the recent months – consolidating a significant troop presence around the Ukrainian border, sending troops to appease the tensions in Kazakhstan and even a potential intervention in Belarus, if criticism of Lukashenko persists, reveal that Putin is trying to prop up allies in the hopes that they will either join him or deter the West from engaging further.

However, the implications of these interventionist actions could be the exact opposite President Putin was expecting. As a result of Russia’s actions, Ukraine is embracing the West even more, protests in Kazakhstan are calling for change and Belarus has impersonated the West’s call to clamp down on authoritarianism in the region.

putin nazarbayev

Photo source: Getty Images


As expected, last week’s talks between Russia and Western officials started under a cloud of pessimism and with little hope of resolution. While the Russian envoy mentioned from the get go that the US “has a lack of understanding” of Kremlin’s security demands, the US expressed its doubts over the likelihood that Russia will deescalate the crisis in Ukraine.

Ironically, these negotiations, which centred on Ukraine, did not include Ukraine. As several experts from Ukraine suggested, Ukraine can only hope for the best but prepare for the worst – war. If the West gives in to Russia’s demands, it will forever seal Ukraine’s fate, prompting the country to fall deeper into Russia’s sphere and its military and economic alliances, –  Kazakhstan and Belarus are visual examples of this.

President Putin’s intentions on Ukraine seem unclear even to advisors that are closest to him. As a result, using unpreadictibility and tension as a method to get the region on top of the US agenda seems to be working. While US president Joe Biden’s foreign policy priority was to focus on fendind off China, as the nation’s greatest opponent, President Putin’s actions have implications for the US agenda as well.

The Kremlin is very much aware that President Biden perceives China, not Russia, as America’s main challenger — an economic, military and technological competitor that plays in a different league from Russia. Yet forcing the US to increase its investment in a confrontation with Russia could undermine Biden’s greater strategic goal, according to analysts.

To add fire to an already growing flame, on Friday, websites of Ukraine’s ministries were hacked. Russia aimed to prove once again that it can wrack havoc on the country, but also on the West, as cases of cyber warfare from Russia have attacked Germany and the United States before.

Whether President Putin wants to lead a campaign of intimidation and mess with Western priorities and agendas or just prove that Russia is still a relevant actor on the world stage, the tactics seem to be working. It is clear that President Putin is enraged over the allies’ eastward expansion and the US support of pro-Western sentiment in Ukraine.

In December 2021, 67% of Ukrainians wanted to join the EU, and 59% supported Ukraine’s NATO membership as a deterrent to further Russian aggression. It seems now that Euroatlantic integration may not be a matter of choice, but one of survival to Ukraine. Therefore, by creating a security crisis, the Kremlin has managed to delay, if not divert these plans.

donbass war

Photo source: New York Times


While the Biden administration has warned of financial and technological sanctions if movements from Russia occur, it is unclear what kind of actions from the Kremlin would trigger a reaction from the White House. With Russian troop movements across the Western border with Ukraine, a scenario of an invasion is in sight, something that the Pentagon is actively preparing for.

Footage has surfaced on social media of military equipment being sent westward into Ukraine, while Russian TV commentators have started talking about an imminent Ukrainian attack of Russian-backed separatists in Crimea. Washington officials have alleged that Russia might try and create a provocation to justify an attack on Ukraine, as Russian operatives specialising in urban warfare and explosives are said to have entered Ukraine.

This week, during her visit to Kiev, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock referred to a revival of the “Normandy” peace talks format (which was created to support implementation of the 2015 Minsk agreement aimed to end the proxy separatist war in Donbass following the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea) involving Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine. Europe has been completely cut off from the negotiation effort during last week’s diplomatic marathon.

So far, Moscow has signalled mixed feelings regarding the negotiations – on the one hand, it seems not to be ruling out the possibility of continuing with negotiations, while some describe them as a dead end. Statements made by Russian envoys during last week’s talks suggest that Russia will keep firm on its demand from the West. And, if these demands are not met, the Kremlin might act accordingly.


Photo source: Getty Images

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