Over the past two weeks relations between Russia and Ukraine have severely deteriorated. Moscow accused Kiev of shelling civilians in Donbass and killing a 5 years old child. At the same time Ukraine accused Russia of redeploying tank divisions and soldier troops to the border with Russia and preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Evgenii Iastrubinskii, Taiwan Center for Security Studies
This whole situation is exacerbated by three additional factors related to NATO. First, as we already know, the US and their NATO allies are planning to conduct military exercises near the borders of Russia. Secondly, according to information from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, partly the games will be held on the territory of Ukraine, under the name Cossack Mace 2021. Ukraine is not an alliance member of NATO, and therefore NATO’s presence on the territory of Ukraine is considered by the Kremlin as a “red line” crossing which could result in a conflict. Thirdly, recently in negotiations with the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged NATO to hasten membership of Ukraine into the organization, under the pretext that this is the only way to end the war in Donbass once and for all and return Crimea to Ukraine. All of the above events are forcing Russia to take countermeasures.
However, at present there is no clear evidence that Russia is going to war. If Russia was going to attack, then most likely it would have done it completely unexpectedly, like in 2014. This military buildup could be part of a military exercise scheduled between Russia and Belarus for this fall. After all, the Russian government can move its troops wherever and whenever it wants within Russia’s borders.
What is all the fuss about?
If neither invasion nor full-scale war with Ukraine is being prepared, then the question is – what’s all the fuss about? For Ukraine, the Ukrainian Crisis is gradually being overshadowed by other priorities on the agenda of American diplomacy and from the headlines of Western media. For a very long time after taking office, President Biden put off calling President Zekenskiy of Ukraine. According to some sources, this made Zelenskiy extremely uneasy. As soon as the news of the Russian aggression spread around the world, Biden immediately called Zelenskiy and affirmed the US’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea. In addition to Biden, the head of the U.S. Department of Defense Lloyd Austin, the head of the U.S. Department of State Anthony Blinken, and the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called their Ukrainian colleagues. Aside from the Americans, Zelenskiy is clearly trying to draw the attention of the Europeans to Ukraine. In particular, Germany, which is less and less interested in the conflict with Russia and sanctions against it. The latest comment made by the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, claimed that “if Ukraine will not become a part of the alliance, then Ukraine will arm itself and build nuclear weapons for protection. Thus, the President of Ukraine is trying his best to remind western colleagues about the situation in and around Ukraine, and is also trying by any means to make Ukraine a part of the NATO military alliance.However, having received tacit support from the transatlantic alliance, there is speculation that Ukraine could unleash a war in Donbass and attack Crimea. As soon as Kiev starts to believe it can act with impunity, it may act recklessly, as happened with Georgia in August 2008. Russia, in turn, will defend the annexed peninsula, as well as stand up for the people of Donbass. Russian authorities have already stated that Ukraine could be completely destroyed if a conflict flares up in Donbass. If Ukraine becomes a NATO member and attacks Donbass or Crimea, this will lead to the situation when Western countries have to fulfill their obligations to protect Ukraine from complete Russian occupation based on Article 5. However, this raises the question: Are Western countries ready to interfere in the sphere of interests of the Russian Federation to that extent? On the other hand, if Europeans and Americans do not intervene in the conflict, it will be quite humiliating for those who argue that Ukraine is an important partner of the West. Subsequently, giving US-allies doubt in their mind if such commitments hold any weight. If the Biden administration decides that it must honor the tacit commitments given to ensure the security of Ukraine and gives a military response to the outbreak of hostilities between Russian and Ukrainian forces, the consequences may drag the world into a war that no one wants.