Putin continues to raise the stakes

As expected, Joe Biden’s recent online meeting with Vladimir Putin did not lead to any decrease in tension over Ukraine. Russia continues to escalate the situation over Ukraine and raise the stakes in relations with the West.

First, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a draft agreement between the US and the Russia on security guarantees and an agreement on measures to ensure the security of Russia and NATO member states, in which the West is offered, in particular, the following:

– the Parties shall not use the territories of other States to prepare or carry out an armed attack against the other Party or other actions affecting core security interests of the other Party;

– the United States of America shall undertake to prevent the further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and deny accession to the Alliance to the States of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; the United States of America shall not establish military bases in the territory of the States of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, use their infrastructure for any military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them;

– the Parties shall refrain from deploying their armed forces and armaments, including in the framework of international organizations, military alliances, or coalitions, in the areas where such deployment could be perceived by the other Party as a threat to its national security, except for such deployment within the national territories of the Parties;

– the Parties shall not create conditions or situations that pose or could be perceived as a threat to the national security of other Parties.

– the Parties that are member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization shall not conduct any military activity on the territory of Ukraine as well as other states in Eastern Europe, in the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.

These proposals are nothing but a kind of ultimatum from the “parallel reality” in which the current Russian rule lives. And its presentation is an ordinary Putin blackmail, which is backed up by control over the gas valve and the concentration of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. At the same time, the Russian proposals to the West, which, as usual, are veiled under “peace” initiatives, have different tasks. One of such tasks is to drive a wedge between the United States and its NATO allies by launching a dialogue between the two states that are decisive in the fate of the world – as the United States and the USSR did in their time. Another task is the discrediting of NATO and the de facto delegitimizing of the Washington Treaty. The third task is to define and legalize the starting position for “new” relations between the collective West and Russia, in which the annexation of Crimea, the occupation of a part of the Ukrainian and Georgian territories is perceived as a fait accompli. The fourth is the recognition by the West of the territories of the former USSR as a zone of “privileged interests” of Russia. The fifth is the further demonization of the West and the rallying of Russians around the Putin regime in a ‘fortress country’ surrounded by enemies on all sides. The latter is aimed primarily at that part of Russian society that is still nostalgic for the times when Soviet leaders constantly threatened the “imperialist predators” from Washington and promised to show them the “Kuzma’s mother.”

By putting forward deliberately unacceptable demands, embellished with good intentions about the inadmissibility of a military conflict between the two global forces, the Kremlin in such a way has prepared in advance the basis for accusing the West of another neglecting its peace initiatives. Consequently, Russia has every right to defend its security in all ways – that is, to continue to do everything that it has been doing since the aggression against Georgia in 2008.

And what about the addressee of the Kremlin ultimatum? As you can see from the reaction of the West to another Moscow’s wishes, they did not surprise him much. For example, the White House responded with a statement that the United States “will not compromise the key principles on which European security is built, including that all countries have the right to decide their future and foreign policy, free from outside interference”. NATO’s response was the statement that “any dialogue with Russia would have to proceed based on reciprocity, address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions, be based on the core principles and foundational documents of European security, and take place in consultation with NATO’s European Partners.”

After realizing that his ultimatum hasn’t had the desired effect on the West, Putin decided to once again resort to blackmail.

So, on Tuesday, December 21, Putin took part in the annual expanded meeting of the Defense Ministry board, where he spoke about several international issues and made threatening statements towards the West. In particular, he said that Russia is ready to take military-technical measures if NATO expands close to its borders. “Of course, as I have already noted, In case of clearly aggressive policy continued by Western colleagues, we will take adequate military-technical measures and respond toughly to unfriendly steps. And, I want to emphasize, we have every right to do so,” the Russian president said.

He also made some inherently absurd statements regarding the armament of Ukraine by the West. One, for example, was made about the transfer of American missile defense systems to Ukraine. “We are extremely concerned about the deployment of elements of the US global missile defense system near Russia. The Mk 41 launchers located in Romania and planned for deployment in Poland have been adapted to the use of the Tomahawk strike systems. If this infrastructure moves on if the US and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, then their flight time to Moscow will be reduced to seven to ten minutes, and with the deployment of hypersonic weapons – to five. For us, this is the most serious challenge – a challenge to our security”,” Putin expressed his concern.

The Kremlin also believes that in addition to missile defense systems, the West will supply Ukraine with hypersonic weapons. “They will put hypersonic weapons in Ukraine, and then, under their cover – this does not mean that they will use them tomorrow, because we already have the Zircon, and they don’t have them yet – they will arm and push extremists from the neighboring state against Russia, including into certain regions of the Russian Federation, for example, Crimea, under advantageous circumstances as they believe,” Putin said.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu echoed his patron, and at the same meeting of the Defense Ministry board announced that U.S. private military companies have stationed troops in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine and are preparing a “provocation using unknown chemical components.” In particular, Shoigu noted that Russians have identified the presence of over 120 members of U.S. mercenary groups in the cities of Avdiivka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations. “Tanks filled with unidentified chemical components were delivered to the cities of Avdiivka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations,” the Russian minister said.

According to him, the employees of American PMCs are setting up firing positions in residential buildings and socially significant facilities. They also prepare Ukrainian special operations forces and radical armed groups for active hostilities.

Despite all their absurdity, the statements of Putin and Shoigu fulfill quite real tasks: to justify all the actions of the Kremlin concerning the West and Ukraine and to prepare the ground for further aggression against the latter. The possibility of such aggression and its scale will depend on many factors, in particular, on Ukraine’s demonstration of its readiness to resist it, as well as on the West’s readiness to support Ukraine. The prospect of the flow of “cargo 200” back to Russia and tough political and economic actions – both against the Russian state and against the ruler of the Kremlin and his entourage – can make (and, most likely, already make) Putin think carefully before giving his troops the command to go ahead. However, all of the above does not in any way prevent Putin from flexing his muscles and rattling weapons on the Ukrainian borders, and thereby, from constantly raising the stakes and hoping that in this game of nerves, the West will blink first.

Igor Fedyk

Head of the South Eastern Europe Section

Igor coordinates the South Eastern Europe Section of the New Geopolitics Research Network. He previously worked as the Head of the Balkan section of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, as well as the Deputy Editor-in-chief of the English-language magazine The Ukrainian Defense Review.

His current research interests are focused on the political, economic and social aspects of the development of the South Eastern Europe and Balkan countries, their interstate and inter-ethnic relations, as well as the relations with third parties (countries not from the region, international organizations), which have an important impact on the situation in the region and in Europe.

He is the author of a number of articles and analyses in various Ukrainian and foreign Media.

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December 2021
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