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Monday, January 17, 2022

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    The abyss before your eyes

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    For weeks, Russia has been strengthening its troops on several sections of the border with Ukraine. The governments of Ukraine and the USA warn that the target could be an attack from several sides in January, in which, according to the Ukrainian secret service, Belarus could also participate. Is Vladimir Putin preparing to invade? Or would he like to negotiate a new division of the spheres of influence in Europe with the threatening backdrop? He and US President Joe Biden will speak at a video summit on Tuesday. What are the goals of Russia, Ukraine, the USA and Europe?

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    Does Vladimir Putin want the whole of Ukraine to join Russia after Crimea?

    Moscow vehemently denies that there are any plans to invade Ukraine. But the Russian President has recently warned repeatedly and clearly that the West must stop attempts to pull Kiev into the West’s sphere of influence. There is a “red line” for Russia, which can be understood as if the Kremlin were ready to use military means to enforce its position. The massing of troops at the border is initially a threat, but the situation has escalated to such an extent that every little misjudgment or even wrong decision can have fatal consequences.

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    Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Russian-backed war in eastern Ukraine and the largely successful military operation in Syria, Putin has to be trusted with the necessary self-confidence for military action. This self-confidence still increased in 2021, it was a successful year for the Russian President. The high world market prices for oil and gas have poured billions into the treasury. The Duma election went off without a hitch. In the field of foreign policy things are also going well. From Moscow’s point of view, the eternal adversary, the USA, appears to be on the decline, considerably weakened by domestic political squabbles. With China you know you have a powerful partner at your side.

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    In March / April of this year, the Russian President had raised massive fears in the West with a massive deployment of troops on the border with Ukraine and extensive maneuvers. During a meeting in Geneva in June, Putin promised the US president that the military presence would be scaled back after the exercises. That didn’t happen. At the same time, Putin tightened his rhetoric towards Ukraine. That culminated in an essay he published in July. In it, Putin provided the historical, political and military strategic justification for an attack on Ukraine – whenever it became necessary.

    The arguments in the article: Ukraine has never been and is not an independent state. It is an inseparable part of Russia, even the name no longer means “on the border”. The present Ukrainian state is an ahistorical entity, just a hodgepodge of regions that the Soviet Union has brought together. As part of Russia, Ukraine has always done well. Their independence is inspired and financed by Russia’s enemies. In the media close to the Kremlin, the formula “our neighboring homeland” has recently been used more often for Ukraine.

    Why is Ukraine so important to Putin?

    The Russian president has tried several times since he came to power more than 20 years ago to force Ukraine back into Russian orbit. The neighboring country is important to the Kremlin for a variety of reasons: On an emotional level, Kiev is inextricably linked with the founding myth of the Russian Empire. In a sense, Russia is not complete without Ukraine. Like Belarus, Ukraine could act as a strategic buffer for the increasingly hostile West. And in Soviet times, Ukraine made a tremendous contribution to the USSR economy through its highly developed industry.

    What does Joe Biden want to achieve?

    Biden knows the Ukraine better than many others. As Barack Obama’s Vice President, this was his responsibility. At the time, Obama tried not to stand too firmly on the side of Kiev; he feared that Putin would otherwise keep increasing the stakes. It is difficult to say whether Biden is more determined to defend Kiev. He sees China’s striving for domination as the greatest strategic challenge. But it is precisely this lack of clarity that is also a strategy.

    Above all, the American President does not want one thing: to draw a red line that may not be crossed by anything. Biden and his foreign minister, Antony Blinken, avoid being pinned down on what happens if Putin really does attack Ukraine. At the same time, Biden warned the Russian President on Friday that he would not accept red lines. On the same day, several American media outlets reported intelligence on the troop movements that had been dispersed by the government. Apparently, since the march in April, the Americans’ concerns have grown significantly that Putin might actually mean business.

    The White House is still relying on diplomacy and de-escalation. It is an attempt to show Putin that you take him seriously – and that you can see what he’s up to. Last week there was also talk of a possible second personal meeting between the two presidents. Now they’ll talk to each other on the phone on Tuesday. In the run-up, Washington is rushing to establish a unified line with its allies and is preparing a number of potential economic sanctions and sanctions against people in Putin’s immediate vicinity. The services are also warning of a disinformation campaign against Ukraine and NATO, which has already begun. Biden said it had been known for a long time what was going on. Washington, on the other hand, does not want to talk about expanding military support in Kiev. Behind this are fears that this could further heat up the tense situation. At the same time, experts warn that Russia could conclude from this that the Americans would ultimately not intervene to save Ukraine.

    How do the German government, the other Europeans and NATO react?

    Members of the incumbent and future federal government are threatening Putin with high costs if he attacks Ukraine. Other EU countries and NATO are doing the same. However, Putin does not consider them to be decisive powers in the current escalation and in the key questions that are important to him: Will the West continue the rapprochement strategy for NATO candidates like Ukraine and Georgia, who so far have no concrete prospect of accession? Will Ukraine receive western weapons that could pose a threat to the Russian army and increase the number of its victims? Would the threatened economic sanctions be noticeably more severe than before and include the exclusion from international payment transactions? Putin recently refused a meeting in the so-called Normandy format with Germany and France, which Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed.

    In the traffic light parties SPD, Greens and FDP, individual politicians ask whether the previous course of dialogue and accommodation was a mistake. Would Putin have attacked Ukraine if NATO had admitted Ukraine and Georgia in 2008? That failed at the time because of Germany and France. But such voices are in the minority. A majority does not want to risk escalation – even if one consequence is that Putin can escalate without having to fear that the West, which is economically and militarily superior to him, will use these resources to force Russia to withdraw. With the energy transition and the simultaneous exit from coal and nuclear power, Germany is also relying on Russian gas for energy supply.

    In the spring, the Greens chairman Robert Habeck spoke out in favor of the delivery of defense weapons after a visit to Ukraine, but was criticized for this in his party and by the SPD. The British government has signed a contract to modernize the Ukrainian navy. French President Emmanuel Macron recently warned Putin of an attack in a phone call. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg threatened that Russia would pay a “high price” if it disregarded Ukraine’s sovereignty. NATO had underlined its solidarity with Ukraine in a joint maneuver in the Black Sea in October.

    In view of the escalation in Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states would like more NATO troops in their territory. But you did not call for military support to Ukraine in the event of a Russian attack.

    How is Ukraine doing?

    The Kiev leadership believes a Russian attack is likely, but not inevitable. But at the same time she knows that without massive support from the West, Ukraine has no chance against Russian pressure, which is not only manifesting itself as a military threat. Domestic political conflicts such as those recently between the Russian coal oligarch Rinat Akhmetov and the government ultimately play into Moscow’s hands.

    How could the situation be relaxed?

    There are some arguments against Putin wanting the “great war”. He is now calling for an agreement on mutual security guarantees that is binding under international law. The problem from the western point of view: such a contract already existed with the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. In it, Russia guaranteed Ukraine the inviolability of its borders in return for renouncing nuclear weapons. Putin broke this treaty in 2014 when he annexed Crimea. So there is a total lack of confidence that the Kremlin would stand by its word this time around. In addition, the Russian proposal would ultimately amount to a “new Yalta”. In Yalta in 1945, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to divide Europe into spheres of influence – over the heads of the peoples affected.

    Source From: Tagesspiegel

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