July 1, 2022

Risk of war in Ukraine: what is the situation?

The voltage has not dropped. Since last November, Russia has been massing troops on the Ukrainian border and reviving the memory of the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Westerners, led by the United States, are on high alert and preparing for the worst.

A worrying military escalation

Since November 2021, tensions have only increased between Russia on one side, Ukraine, the United States and NATO member countries on the other. While nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers are still massed on the Ukrainian border, Westerners fear an imminent invasion of Ukrainian territory. Moscow denies any bellicose intention and claims to defend its territory against “provocative military exercises” carried out by NATO on the outskirts of Russia.

If the crisis was latent, everything accelerated in January. On the 14th of the month, several Ukrainian government sites were the target of a massive cyberattack, attributed to Russia. On the same day, Washington accused Moscow of dispatching agents to Ukraine to carry out “sabotage” operations in order to create a “pretext” for an invasion.

On both sides, the General Staffs are preparing for the possibility of an armed conflict. On the Russian side, the Kremlin has been deploying soldiers in Belarus since mid-January for “combat readiness” exercises, a sign that Russia can attack Ukraine “at any time” according to Washington. Moscow is also mobilizing its fleet and has announced an agenda for naval maneuvers in the Atlantic, Arctic, Pacific and Mediterranean.

On the Western side, the Pentagon placed 8,500 soldiers on January 24 on alert, ready to intervene within five days, while NATO is sending ships and combat planes to Eastern Europe.

The latest movement to date, Ukraine claimed on January 25 to have dismantled a group coordinated by the Russian special services which was preparing armed attacks against infrastructure to “destabilize” the country.

Deadlocked negotiations

In recent weeks, diplomatic meetings between Russian and American officials have multiplied. Biden-Putin summit in December, long negotiations in Switzerland at the beginning of January, meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov last Friday… None of these meetings led to a de-escalation, each party accusing the other to cause the negotiations to fail.

Concretely, Moscow demands a written commitment from the Americans on the non-enlargement of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia and calls for the withdrawal of NATO forces from the countries of Eastern Europe that have joined the alliance. Atlantic after 1997, notably from Romania and Bulgaria. Unacceptable demands for Washington, which prefers to negotiate on arms control and the limitation of military maneuvers.

While neither party is ready to make concessions, the diplomatic option seems exhausted. Despite everything, Westerners want to continue the dialogue. According to a European source consulted by AFP, a new meeting is already planned between Antony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov.

Heavy penalties in the event of an attack

In the event of an invasion, Westerners have assured that they are preparing sanctions of unprecedented severity. The reduction of gas and oil purchases, which respectively represent 43% and 20% of EU supplies, and which largely finance the Russian budget, is on the table, even if the subject divides within the EU. Doubt still hangs over the fate of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which the Germans are reluctant to include in the sanctions package.

The position of the fledgling German coalition government in the event of an escalation with Russia remains uncertain. Berlin indeed refuses to deliver arms to Ukraine, to the great displeasure of Kiev and Washington.

On the American side, Joe Biden plans to ban Russian banks from using the dollar, the main currency of international trade, which would deal a very severe blow to the country’s finance and real economy.

Europeans want to play their part

Excluded from the showdown between Russia and the United States, Europeans have expressed doubts about the increasingly aggressive rhetoric of the United States. After the evacuation of the families of diplomats stationed in Kiev, France called for “not to create ambiguity, additional volatility” while the European Commission invited not to “dramatize” the situation more than it would already is.

To put Europe back at the heart of the Ukrainian crisis, Germany and France want to bring Russia to discuss in a framework other than the sterile duel between Biden and Putin. On Wednesday, discussions in “Normandy format” will take place in Paris between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany. This format of negotiations was initiated in 2014 to find a way out of the Donbass war, opposing Ukraine to pro-Russian separatists suspected of being supported by Moscow.