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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 52, New Delhi, December 11, 2021

Russia-Ukraine Conflict Aggravating | R G Gidadhubli

Saturday 11 December 2021

by Dr R.G.Gidadhubli *

Russia-Ukraine bilateral ties have been worsening and conflicts persisting during the last nearly a decade. The conflict seems to be aggravating again. This is evident from the fact that in November 2021 the president of Ukraine Mr. Volodymyr Zelenskiy has accused Russia on several grounds. He has stated on 26th November that Russia was sending ‘very dangerous signals’ with military troop movements on the border with Ukraine, which from his perspective was a threat to its national security. Secondly, he was suspicious and speculative in stating "There is a threat today that there will be war tomorrow and we are entirely prepared for an escalation. He was firm in stating that Ukraine’s army is strong to deal with any threat to its country ".

Thirdly, he has alleged that some unidentified Russians and Ukrainians were plotting to overthrow his government. Ukraine has also accused Russia for trying to involve influential billionaire oligarch of Ukraine Mr. Rinat Akhmetov in a proposed plot rocking the political situation in the country by offering him billions of dollars.

Fourth, Mr. Volodymyr Zelenskiy has stated that Ukraine’s intelligence service has uncovered plans to stage a coup involving people from Russia that might occur in December 2021.

Hence to show his strength, on 26th November Zelenskiy has said that Ukraine was in full control of its borders and was ready for any escalation with Russia. In fact it needs to be noted that as there has been on-going bilateral conflict during the last several years, and Ukraine has contended that Kremlin-backed separatists continue to control wide swaths of eastern Ukraine which has claimed more than 13,200 lives since April 2014. Hence expressing his deep concern over latest Russia’s troop movements, Zelenskiy has stated that his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, would soon be contacting representatives of Russia about the standoff between the two countries. Mr. Yermak has confirmed that he would be contacting Dmitry Kozak of Russia who is at present President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff.

Western Support to Ukraine

Ukraine has been strongly supported by Western Powers. It needs to be mentioned at the outset that many Western countries have alleged that Russia illegally seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and hence the Western powers have consistently supported Ukraine and are critical of Russia. On the 25th November 2021, as per reports in New York Times, the U.S. intelligence officials and senior figures in Ukraine’s military have stated that as many as 92,000 Russian troops were massed to the north and east of Ukraine — many in the area around Yelnya, near Russia’s border with ally Belarus — and in Crimea, the peninsula that lies south of mainland Ukraine. Secondly, as reported by Western media outlet Bloomberg, the U.S. officials have warned that Russia might attack Ukraine in December 2021, and that a potential invasion could be "on a scale far greater" than in 2014, when Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Hence NATO Chief Jens Stolenberg has warned that “if Russia uses force against Ukraine, that will have costs and that will have consequences.”

Thirdly, the US administration has not only expressed great concern on this issue but the U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration was also considering sending military advisers and new equipment including weapons to Ukraine to strengthen its military power. Fourthly, in the first week of November the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Washington had "real concerns" about the Russian military moves and a possible new offensive, which he warned would be a "serious mistake." But Moscow has not only dismissed the US reports of a potential Russian invasion as "groundless," but Kremlin has also sent strong message that Russia may take action if Washington and the West do not address Russia’s concerns about the situation in the Donbas and, more broadly, NATO ties with Kyiv and Western military activity in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea.

Fifth, even as the situation has been persisting, on the 23rd November, the United States’ and Russia’s top military officers spoke over the phone amid heightened Western concerns over the issue. Hence it is appreciable that some efforts seem to have been made by the authorities of Russia and USA to reduce on-going conflict. This is also evident from the fact that as reported by the Russia’s Defense Ministry, on 23rd November General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed "current questions of international security" and other "security-related issues of concern." In fact this phone call was a continuation of communication between both the leaders to ensure risk reduction and operational de-confliction.

Russia’s Reaction

Russia has been highly critical of the accusations by Ukraine and the West and has blamed Washington for raising tensions in the region. On the accusation of Russia’s military operations, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has claimed that "the movement of our armed forces on our territory should not be a cause for concern." In other words it was a routine military operation in Russia’s own territory and that should not be of concern for Ukraine. Secondly, Mr. Dmitry Peskov has also denied the allegation of Russia being involved in the planned coup attempt. He was candid in stating "We never do things like that."

Thirdly, Moscow is highly critical of the West blaming Russia for causing increase in tensions in the region. On the other hand, Russia has alleged that NATO has been regularly carrying out military exercises and increasing military operations in the region deliberately provocating Russia. In fact, the Russian President Mr. Vladimir Putin has been candid in stating that the West is not willing to adhere to "red lines".

Fourthly, Russia is highly critical of NATO expansion to the East during the last three decades after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. Many countries of East Europe which were politically and economically close to Moscow, have moved to the West and partly turned against Russia. Hence Moscow has made it clear a few years back that any measure of NATO membership for Ukraine was a "red line". Russia does not want NATO on its borders, which might aggravate security threats. Hence Moscow has been recently warning against any expansion of NATO alliance’s military cooperation with Kyiv. In fact commenting on Russia’s allegation and denying military exercises, the NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana has stated that "everything we do near the Black Sea and on NATO’s eastern flank is of a purely defensive and absolutely transparent character."

Fifth, it is important to know that NATO on its part having expanded its membership, wants closer relations with Moscow. Reconfirming this policy perspective, on 18th November, the NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana called on Russian officials to establish a "solid, transparent, and honest dialogue" with the Western military alliance amid persistent high tensions between Moscow and the West over issues including its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and the ongoing conflict in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. More important is that Geoana has opined that despite relations being at the lowest level since the end of the Cold War, NATO officials "are seeking and looking forward to continuing discussions with their Russian counterparts" on both the political and military levels. He reiterated "We stand ready to continuing and urging Russia to come back to the NATO-Russia Council," the main forum for dialogue between the two sides. However, he is aware of the fact that under prevailing geo-political conditions "For the time being, Russia is turning down our invitations, but we hope that they realize the merit of having a solid, transparent, and honest dialogue with NATO."

From what is stated above it is evident that conflicts are aggravating between Russia and Ukraine and contentions strongly differ between the two countries on various issues. Western powers are strongly support Ukraine. Efforts being made by concerned authorities might prevent any possible war.

(Dr R.G.Gidadhubli is Professor And Former Director, Center For Central Eurasian Studies, University Of Mumbai)

1st December 2021

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