Russia is risking all-out war to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO

Russian President Vladimir Putin (front), and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Vladimir Zelensky) attend the Normandy Four summit in the Murat Hall of the Elysee Palace; It is noteworthy that the talks within the framework of the so-called Normandy Four format include representatives of Ukraine, Germany, France and Russia who are discussing the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Michael Metzel | TASS | Getty Images

Russia’s dealings – or, more accurately, its clashes – with the West have centered on one country that has been a particular flashpoint for confrontations in recent years: Ukraine.

The focus is back this week with a series of high-stakes meetings between Russian and Western officials focused on trying to defuse escalating tensions between Russia and its neighbor.

A particular issue at the moment is whether Ukraine – a country bordering Russia and the rest of Europe, and one aspiring to join the European Union – could one day become a member of NATO’s western military alliance.

This is a possibility that Russia strongly opposes.

As the Russian Council prepares to meet with NATO officials in Brussels on Wednesday, CNBC has evidence showing why Russia is so interested in Ukraine and how far it might be willing to go to prevent Ukraine from joining the alliance.

Why is Ukraine important?

Relations between European neighbors plummeted in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and backed a pro-Russian uprising in the east of the country as low-level fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces has continued ever since.

Tensions have risen further in recent months, however, amid multiple reports of Russian troops massing on the border with Ukraine, fueling widespread speculation that Russia is preparing to invade the country.

Russia has repeatedly denied planning to do so, and the United States, the European Union and NATO have warned Russia that it will respond decisively, President Joe Biden said during a December 30 phone call, if Russia invades Ukraine. “

But how far the West will go to defend Ukraine is a big question.

What does Russia want?

Last month, Russia made several major demands on the West when it comes to Ukraine, among other security matters, in a draft security agreement.

Within this, the United States demanded to prevent further eastward expansion of NATO and not allow the former Soviet Union countries to join the alliance.

In the draft agreement, Russia also demanded that the United States “not establish military bases” on the territory of any ex-Soviet countries that are not already members of NATO, or “use their infrastructure for any military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”

Although not mentioned by name in the draft agreement, Ukraine is an obvious target for the Russians; Ukraine is a former Soviet republic, as are Russia’s allies Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Armenia, among others. The former Soviet states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are already members of NATO.

Russia has already, and often, has expressed its hatred for US missile defense complexes in Poland and Romania in Eastern Europe and the strengthening of NATO’s presence, in terms of “combat-ready battle groups”, as NATO describes it, in the Baltic states and Poland. .

For their part, the US and NATO have already said that demands for Ukraine not to join NATO, or to roll back NATO’s deployments in Eastern Europe, are “not rudimentary” in the words of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the US. A delegation holds talks with Russian officials in Geneva on Monday.

While noting that the United States had backed away from Russia’s security proposals, her Russian counterpart, Sergei Ryabkov, said the talks, which lasted about seven hours, had been “difficult” and indicated that Moscow’s demands had not changed. You never – ever – become a member of NATO.”

With no apparent progress in talks on Monday, hopes are pinned on further discussions between Russian and NATO officials in Brussels on Wednesday, and more discussions on Thursday at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna.

Why is Russia doing this?

Putin was not sure of the fact that he thought the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a disaster for Russia, calling it the “greatest geopolitical tragedy” of the 20th century.y a century.

Ukraine is of particular importance to Russia due to its location – it stands as a fortress between Russia and the eastern European Union countries – as well as being of symbolic and historical significance to Russia, and it is often seen as the “jewel in the crown” of the former Soviet empire.

Putin praised the cultural, linguistic and economic ties between Ukraine and Russia, calling Russians and Ukrainians “one people” last year. He even wrote an article on this topic called “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”

This sentiment is not welcome everywhere in Ukraine, where the country’s government under President Volodymyr Zelensky looks west for economic aid and geopolitical power, particularly in the years following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Ukraine has repeatedly expressed its desire to join the European Union and NATO, which represents a geopolitical kick for a rising Russia vying to maintain power and influence in the region.

Many strategists and close followers of Russian politics believe that Putin, who has been in power alternately between prime minister and president since late 1999, has a strong desire to invade Ukraine.

“Not only is Russia seeking to prevent Ukraine from joining the alliance – something it has sought to do since the implementation of the 2008 Ukraine NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) – but It also seeks to prevent Ukraine from joining the alliance. To remove Ukraine from the circle of Western influence it has moved to since the Ukrainian revolution of 2014.”

“NATO membership is particularly symbolic, but Russia will not accept a situation in which the West significantly expands its military support to Ukraine as well.”

How far is Russia ready to go?

One of the biggest questions facing Western officials is to what extent Russia is willing to cut off the road to stop Ukraine’s drift toward Europe and the West and to consolidate and expand its presence and influence in the country as it is.

In Monday’s talks, the Russian delegation insisted that there are no plans to invade Ukraine but analysts are not sure.

A Russian invasion of Ukraine could still happen, Angela Stint, director emeritus of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies at Georgetown University at Georgetown University, told CNBC on Tuesday. “Let’s say 50-50 for now,” she said, adding that it could be a “more limited invasion” rather than a massive invasion.

“That danger is still there,” she said.

Maximilian Hess agreed, noting “I think Russia is ready to go to war, but I don’t think the Kremlin would want a war much further than the present fronts. And the risks of meeting guerrilla resistance would be very high, especially if they bypass Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.”

Hess added that Russia needed to remain a “credible invasion threat,” especially since this was what played the key role in bringing the United States to the negotiating table.

“The risk of a renewed or expanded Russian invasion—Ukraine of course already faces an ongoing Russian invasion of Crimea and a proxy occupation of parts of Donetsk and Luhansk—has not completely receded over the past eight years, and it is unlikely after these talks that it maintains the ability to constrain Ukraine’s potential success remains It is seen as a key to the Kremlin’s long-term self-preservation.”

Meanwhile, Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, told CNBC on Tuesday that both Russia and the United States want to avoid a military confrontation and that Moscow only wants what it sees as an “accommodation” of its interests.


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