Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 482, 9 February 2022

The Ukraine crisis: Dialogues, discussions, and diplomatic meets continue
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan

In the news
On 8 February, the leaders of Germany, France, and Poland met in Berlin to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Polish President Andrzej Duda said: "We must show that we speak in one voice," showing a united goal of keeping peace in Europe. Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz talked about unexpected and far-reaching consequences on Russia if it violated Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

On the same day, Macron visited Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to further negotiations concerning Russia and Ukraine. Macron said "concrete, practical solutions" could de-escalate the crisis between the two countries. However, Zelenskyy said he does not "trust words in general," and hoped to see concrete de-escalation steps from the Russian side. Zelenskyy also mentioned how the talks with Macron were fruitful and expected another meeting soon by the Normandy group. 

On 7 February, Scholz met with US President Joe Biden in Washington. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline (NS2P) was a key point of discussion as Biden said: "If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2…We will bring an end to it." Scholz's stance concerning the gas pipeline was ambiguous, but he said the US and Germany were acting together and if Russia was to attack Ukraine, both the countries would take stern steps against it. 

On the same day, French President Emmanuel Macron met with his Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to de-escalate the Ukrainian standoff. Macron initiated the meeting, saying: "This discussion can make a start in the direction in which we need to go, which is toward a de-escalation." He further mentioned how Putin had assured him of continuing engagement diplomatically and indicated a desire to maintain the stability and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Putin commented: "A number of his ideas, proposals, which are probably still too early to talk about, I think it is quite possible to make the basis of our further joint steps."

Issues at large
First, the initiatives in Europe. The multiple meetings led by the leaders of France, Germany, Poland and Ukraine brings the focus to Europe. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier had reassured Russia of NATO's role simply as a defensive alliance. Moreover, the reappearance of the Minsk Agreements and the Weimar Triangle format indicates Europe's role and ambition in dealing with the crisis at hand. 

Second, threats from the transatlantic partners. The US had ordered about 3,000 troops and military equipment that were to be deployed in Poland and Romania to protect NATO's eastern flank. At the same time, Germany sent 350 troops to Lithuania to reinforce the NATO battle group. NATO is also scheduled to extend its Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) strategy to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. The latest threat on the Nord Stream two pipeline will add to the frictions between the US, Germany, and Russia.

Third, mixed signals from Putin. Russia has been diplomatically engaging with the European countries, but at the same time, it has amassed 110,000 troops along the border of Ukraine. Putin had also accused Biden of not responding to Moscow's concerns and felt it was being ignored. Russia has been stressing adherence to the 1999 agreement, the violation of which was the basis of the Ukraine crisis. However, Russia also escalated by holding military exercises in Belarus after sending 30,000 troops. It had also sent nuclear-capable bombers to fly over Belarus amid tensions and talks. 

Fourth, Macron's role and the emphasis on the Normandy format. Macron's role in accelerating discussions and in-person meetings has also increased Russian and Ukrainian trust in the Normandy format. The revival of the Normandy format can be seen as the next straw of practical engagements between Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France in the Ukrainian crisis. 

In perspective
First, two months into the crisis, the concerns have not been averted yet. But, the prospects to de-escalate the tensions in Ukraine have increased. The resurgence of the Weimar Triangle and the Normandy format has opened de-escalation channels. 

Second, with the increase in options and Europe's initiatives, the US has been sidelined amidst the recent meetings and standpoints, as reflected in Sholz's ambiguous stance on the NS2P pipeline as Biden was clear on ending it if Russia attacked. 

Third, Macron's diplomacy in Europe aligns with his push for the EU's strategic autonomy. 

Fourth, Putin has been giving out mixed signals to either avert an immediate military confrontation or to use the opportunity to revisit and improve its relations with European governments.

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