Conflict Alerts # 472, 19 January 2022
In the news
On 19 January, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reached Kyiv, as a part of his three-day tour to Kyiv, Berlin and Geneva, to discuss what the US sees as an imminent threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine. He met with Ukraine's President; a US State Department release claimed: "Secretary Blinken emphasized again that if Russia chooses the path of further aggression against Ukraine, the United States, together with our Allies and partners, will impose crippling costs on Russia's economy, reinforce NATO's presence in frontline Allied states, and increase defensive assistance to Ukraine above and beyond what we are already providing."
On 20 January, he would visit Germany "to discuss recent diplomatic engagements with Russia and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including Allies' and partners' readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia." On 21 January, in Geneva, he would meet the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov "to engage on areas of bilateral concern and urge Russia to take steps to de-escalate and remove its troops along Ukraine's border."
On 19 January, in Washington, the White House press secretary issued a warning: "President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that's a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies."
On the same day, the Russian news agency TASS quoted a Presidential spokesman saying: "We haven't yet received a written response to our questions…We hope to receive it these days." On 17 January, TASS also quoted the Russian Foreign Minister calling the Russian invasion "disinformation" and saying: "… by spreading complete disinformation that we are preparing a provocation all but attacking the Russian-speaking population in Donbass in order to obtain the pretext for that very invasion." He blamed the US, and said: "Washington is quite capable of simply forcing the Kiev regime to finally implement the Minsk Accords. This subject was also discussed during the Putin-Biden summit last June in Geneva. There we saw and heard the US' understanding of the essence of the Minsk Accords. Above all, [it lies] in Donbass' special status. And I hope that our American colleagues will occupy themselves with this."
Issues at large
First, the threat of Russian invasion. In recent days, there has been a series of reports about the likely Russian invasion of Ukraine. From the US to Europe, there is an urgency over the issue, as they consider Russia has amassed troops along Ukraine's border and expect Putin would "move in." Russia so far has rejected the statements and consider them as disinformation.
Second, the threat against the Russian invasion. During the recent weeks, there were a series of threats from President Biden to others in Europe, addressing Moscow against any military adventure against Ukraine. The US has been discussing sanctions against Russia if the latter invades Ukraine.
Third, the demands and counter-demands. The US and its allies in Europe want Russia to keep away from pressurizing Ukraine. Moscow wants written guarantees that Kyiv would not join the EU or NATO. Russia demands that Ukraine not be made a part of NATO. The draft proposals published in December 2021 refers to "ensure the security of the Russian Federation" and "refrain from any further enlargement of NATO, including the accession of Ukraine as well as other States." The US and its European allies consider it as a sovereign right of Ukraine to join the EU/NATO or not. Kyiv demands that Moscow does not meddle in its territory. A section within Ukraine wants to be with the EU, but the country is also facing a militancy in its eastern region Donbas.
Fourth, the failure of talks until now. A series of discussions were held in January 2022 in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna, involving actors from the US, EU, NATO and Russia. Ukraine was one of the primary focuses of these discussions. Both sides have not found a common path outside their stated positions.
Russia considers Ukraine as a part of its "sphere of influence." The West (Europe and the US) refuse to accept the claim and want an open policy towards getting Ukraine into the EU and NATO. Will Russia invade Ukraine, and how far will the West go if Moscow decides to pursue that course? Much will depend on the meeting between the US Secretary of State and Russian Foreign Minister on 21 January 2021.