Experts interviewed by RBC assessed the possibility of military escalation due to the situation around Ukraine, noting the high risk of unforeseen incidents. In their opinion, the West is not ready to provide Russia with the security guarantees required by Putin
What they say in Moscow, Washington and Brussels
Over the past month, the United States has repeatedly spoken about Russia's pulling up troops to the border with Ukraine, while Moscow has rejected these statements. Following the meeting of NATO foreign ministers on December 2, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on Russia to withdraw its troops from the border with Ukraine. Also, according to him, in the event of Russian aggression, Washington will impose such sanctions against Moscow, which it has not yet applied before. “ We don't know if President Putin made the decision to invade. We know that he creates the potential to do so in a short time if he decides to, & raquo ;, & mdash; added the secretary of state. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia would give an answer if new “ hellish '' attacks were introduced against it. economic sanctions. “ This is a dead-end road, and ultimately it will turn against the very initiators of these illegitimate unilateral measures, '' & mdash; warned the minister.
Against the background of the aggravation, President Vladimir Putin announced that in negotiations with the United States and its allies, Russia would insist on “ working out specific agreements that would exclude any further NATO moves to the east and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in close proximity to Russian territory. '' His idea was developed by Lavrov during the press conference “ in the margins '' OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Stockholm: “ We want the agreements that the President mentioned, and which we will seek, must have a legal, legally binding character. '' According to him, they will be formulated in the near future. “ If NATO continues to withdraw from the conversation on this topic or on the topic of agreements, ideas put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin, of course, we will take measures so that our security, our sovereignty and territorial integrity do not depend on anyone. '' , & mdash; he stated. Although NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has already said that the decision on Ukraine's entry into the alliance will be made by its 30 member countries, and Russia's opinion on this issue will not be taken into account. “ Russia has no veto right, its opinion is not taken into account. It has no right to restore the principle of spheres of influence and through this influence neighboring countries, '', & mdash; Stoltenberg said.
Internal and external reasons for the escalation of the situation
The rise in tensions between the US and Russia over the past few months largely reflects the internal US reaction to the June Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, said Alan Kafruni, professor of international relations at Hamilton College. According to him, then Biden clearly outlined the desire for stability and predictability, since he gives priority to the rivalry between the United States and China. As a result, it provoked a serious internal struggle in the US foreign policy establishment. “The most aggressive elements are exerting tremendous pressure on the Biden administration to prevent any significant convergence, in fact repeating in some respects the experience of Donald Trump, who sought to reduce tensions with Russia,” “mdash. the expert explained in a conversation with RBC. According to him, an increase in the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine, naval maneuvers in the Black Sea and an increase in flights closer to the border with Russia are the result of such pressure. “ Last month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin offered the United States to approve Ukraine's NATO membership. Ukraine's membership in NATO & mdash; de jure or de facto & mdash; this is, of course, the 'red line' For Russia. Washington's increasingly tough line and Ukraine's own military maneuvers and rhetoric have provoked a new round of Russian military mobilization along the Ukrainian border, along with increasingly decisive statements from Vladimir Putin. Of course, all of this further inspired Biden's belligerent critics at home, '', & mdash; Kafruni emphasized.
According to Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, Moscow is moving from exhortations to concrete warnings. According to him, starting in the spring of 2021, Russia has resorted to military demonstrations in order to contain the Ukrainians and their Western allies. These demonstrations are considered by the objects of these signals to be valid (“ preparation for the invasion ''). “ These actions are being carried out right now, because the dynamics in and around Ukraine, as well as the real blocking of the Minsk agreements and the emasculation of the Normandy format, present the Russian leadership with a choice. Either passively observe the constantly deteriorating strategic situation in a very important area, or stop these processes with tough retaliatory steps, not excluding military measures. If a collision is inevitable, then it is better to meet the enemy in the early approaches, seizing the initiative and using the enemy's vulnerabilities '', & mdash; Trenin noted in a conversation with RBC. Kennan Institute expert Igor Zevelev believes that the Kremlin has realized the impossibility of further maintaining the status quo in Ukraine. “ Not a single issue related to the conflict in eastern Ukraine has been resolved and there is no progress. It is quite obvious that the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and the people around him do not seek to resolve the issue on the basis of the Minsk agreements, and Russia does not currently see any other alternative, '' & mdash; he told RBC. Zevelev added that the Ukrainian problem in itself would have been insignificant if it had not been included in the system of relations between Russia and the Western countries.
There would be an armed conflict
The risk of military escalation is now “ very significant '', says Alexei Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security of the IMEMO RAN, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The main reason for the current exacerbation of & mdash; the fact that “ in Moscow, apparently, they came to the conclusion that it is impossible to keep Ukraine through the Crimea and Donbass, '' the expert says. Russia has long been talking about the unacceptability of Ukraine's entry into NATO. “ Kiev is receiving more and more military and financial assistance, and now the number [of claims against Kiev and its allies] has turned into quality, '' & mdash; the expert noted in a conversation with RBC.
Zevelev described the current situation as “ quite acute. '' “ I do not think that Russia has plans to invade Ukraine, or that the Ukrainian government will take any drastic steps, but the possibility of incidents, especially in the Black Sea region, is extremely dangerous given the concentration of military power on all sides, the lack of adequate communication lines , trust in each other and understanding not only potential, but also mutual intentions '', & mdash; explained Zevelev.
Neither Russia nor the United States wants a military conflict, Kafruni agrees with him. “ Despite widespread predictions of a Russian invasion in the US media, Russia definitely does not want all the attendant problems this could entail. However, in the context of growing provocations and rhetorical escalation, there is a possibility of misperception and mistakes. This is especially true in the context of instability in Kiev & raquo;, & mdash; he explained. Thus, the situation is very similar to the situation in Georgia in 2008, when then-President Mikheil Saakashvili mistakenly believed that he could count on US military support, the expert summed up.
Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, an expert at the Valdai Club Nor does Richard Weitz think that the current tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine could lead to war. Rather, it is & mdash; a repetition of Moscow's strategy to periodically increase and decrease tensions around Ukraine, the expert explained. This strategy has several goals, including forcing Kiev to make concessions to Russia, encouraging differences within Ukrainians over the Russian issue, exploiting any differences between Ukraine and its Western partners, and getting concessions from Washington, such as the summit between Presidents Biden and Putin.
“ The main character of the Play by Eugene Schwartz 'Dragon' said that “ the war begins suddenly. '' Since they have been talking about war, without ceasing, for a month and a half, at all levels, purely in an applied sense, this is not the case, '', & mdash; noted the editor-in-chief of the magazine “ Russia in Global Affairs '' Fedor Lukyanov. In his opinion, although the risk of military clashes is increased, so far what is happening can be described as “ rhetorical artillery preparation and a demonstration of confidence '' in order to move opponents to some kind of agreement, Lukyanov says. What Moscow wants to get has already been said by both Putin and Lavrov. “ That we will seek new security guarantees. That it is necessary to revise the entire system of relations in the field of European security that emerged after the Cold War, that NATO should not expand indefinitely, '' & mdash; added the expert. According to him, it is this topic that will be devoted to the upcoming online summit of Putin and Biden. “ At the last meeting between Lavrov and Blinken, the American side has already made an interesting statement. Yes, the rhetoric was harsh, threats of sanctions, but we heard for the first time that the Minsk agreements must be fulfilled, '' & mdash; he said.
Will Putin receive guarantees that NATO will not expand eastward
The US and NATO cannot guarantee Russia will not expand the military alliance to the east, Arbatov said. It is even difficult to imagine how this can be legally formalized, given how the bloc is structured and that there are 30 states in it, including the Baltic states and Poland, he adds. However, the expert continues, one can imagine less formal agreements. “ That the parties will not exacerbate tensions, that military assistance will be limited, the exercises will be limited both from the Russian side and from the other side, '' & mdash; he gives an example.
In the long term, Arbatov believes, the conflict could be resolved peacefully on the basis of the Minsk agreements. Donbass is returning as part of Ukraine. Ukraine retains its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and Russia and NATO become its guarantors. Ukraine also maintains a neutral status & raquo;, & mdash; he describes a possible scenario.
Zevelev recalled that the Ukrainian conflict & mdash; it is an integral part of relations between Russia and the United States, NATO, and European countries. “ Without Russia's finding a worthy place in the European security system, the Ukrainian conflict essentially cannot be resolved. This is not a Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it is much broader, and, not seeing the prospects for its solution, the fundamental question of guarantees has been raised right now, although their implementation in their current form seems unrealistic to me, because I do not see the intention of Western countries to meet Russia halfway and respond to her proposal without losing face '', & mdash; he said. For his part, Weitz added that the crisis is unlikely to be resolved through guarantees from the West, since Western leaders will not give them.
“ Putin's proposal for NATO to provide legal guarantees against Ukraine's accession would be unacceptable for NATO and Putin certainly understands this. At the same time, his demand can become a starting point for negotiations. After all, as in the case of Georgia in 2008, the United States will not resort to military intervention on the side of Ukraine. I hope the Ukrainian government and the armed forces understand this; '', & mdash; concluded by Kafruni.
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