July 1, 2022

Faced with the Russian threat, war of nerves in Kiev

Capital of a country that has lived under the Kremlin’s sword of Damocles for eight years, Kiev is not a city under siege, store shelves are stocked, cafes are open, gas stations are stocked and invisible security measures. Far from the front, it is rather a war of nerves that is going on there, fueled primarily by military pressure from Russian troops massed for three months on the eastern border of Ukraine, but also by Russian-American tension and the sometimes contradictory Western statements on the subject.

The Ukrainians have understood this well: the current confrontation between the United States and their allies on one side and Russia on the other goes far beyond their own fate, even if they are the first concerned. They watch with a certain astonishment this sudden rise of geopolitical fever over them, as if the West were discovering a war which for them began when Moscow annexed Crimea and invaded part of Donbass, relying on local militias prorussians. “The armed conflict has lasted since 2014 and the hybrid attacks since 1991”, when Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union, recalls a senior defense official who is asked if he is seeing a rise in hybrid attacks.

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Based on interviews with a dozen officials and elected officials organized in Kyiv by the German Marshall Fund research center, to which The world participated, the scenario of a full-scale Russian invasion immediately appears to be the least plausible. In a recent survey by the International Institute of Sociology in Kiev, a third of Ukrainians say they are ready to take up arms to resist Russian intervention, to which must be added 22% of volunteers for civil resistance: the human cost of such an offensive would therefore be too high for Moscow.

In the short term, more destabilization, disinformation and cyber-attack operations are expected to intensify, while military pressure on Ukraine’s borders increases; these operations are already underway, as evidenced by the attack on government computer sites on January 14 or the anonymous bomb threat messages that emptied schools in Kiev on January 21. “We left for a marathon, not for a sprint”, predicts a European diplomat on the spot.

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“People are a little confused”

Another possibility considered is that of a new operation located in eastern Ukraine. “IF Russia chooses escalation, obviously it will do so in territories where people historically have family ties to Russia”, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Friday in an interview with the Washington Post. Thereby, “Kharkiv could be occupied”, under the pretext of “protect the Russian-speaking population”, he said, while stressing that such an operation in a city of more than a million inhabitants would inevitably cause a “full-scale war”.

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