In another escalation of the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country’s president said that only his admission into the western military alliance could end the war that has killed 13,000 people since 2014.
At the same time, the Russian Defense Minister, a country whose troop movements on the Ukrainian border have raised the current alarm in the West, ordered a combat readiness inspection by the armed forces of Vladimir Putin.
These are drums of war that are usually beaten when these crises occur, but they give an indication of the degree of tension it has experienced since the situation deteriorated again in the Donbass region.
Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenski called NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday.
After the call, he posted on Twitter that Ukraine hoped to be invited this year to join the NATO Affiliation Action Plan. “NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbass. The plan for Ukraine would be a real signal for Russia,” he wrote.
In recent years, the Western Alliance has said the armed forces and the Ukrainian state need reform before joining the club. “Reforms alone will not stop Russia,” Zelensky wrote.
In fact, the West has not brought Ukraine into NATO or the European Union, because it knows that would elicit a stronger reaction from Russia.
The bar was raised by Putin in 2014, when he responded to the overthrow of a pro-Kremlin government in Kiev with the annexation of Crimea and support for the separatists who started the war in the Donbass – today still frozen, the conflict gave rise to two autonomous republics. in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.
In his rhetoric, Stoltenberg said in a statement that “NATO strongly supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine”. “We remain committed to our close partnership,” he said.
The silence of the White House, questioned by journalists on the idea, is more eloquent.
President Joe Biden has been known for his harsh rhetoric against the Russians and demanded an explanation for sending soldiers, tanks and tanks to the border and also to Crimea. But from there, accelerating the absorption of Ukraine is a long way off.
Zelenski, an unlikely comedian who came to power in 2019, was trying to negotiate a deal with Putin. As he has lost popularity (a recent poll says only 22% would vote for him again), he gave in to pressure from the local establishment and embraced the confrontational discourse.
The inspection determined by Minister Serguei Choigu, meanwhile, also goes in the direction of the demonstration of teeth. The Kremlin has already said there is nothing unusual about the movement of troops and has denied wanting to attack Ukraine.
On the other hand, he signaled that he wanted the West’s commitment to the Minsk accords, which, in their latest version of 2015, established the conditions under which the rebel republics remain with Kiev, but with a great autonomy.
The agreements have been co-sponsored by Russia and the West, but Ukrainian leaders do not accept them because they consider that they make the country’s territorial integrity unachievable.
“We strongly doubt that this [entrar na Otan] go and help Ukraine solve its internal problem. From our point of view, this will only make the situation worse. Joining NATO is unacceptable to those who live in republics, ”said Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman.
After relative calm since 2015, the conflict has heated up again this year. Skirmishes took place on the 500 km border between Ukrainians and rebels, killing 23 Kiev soldiers and an uncertain number of separatists. Last year around 50 people died in clashes.
An estimated 3.8 million people live in the region, the majority of Russian origin, out of 44.3 million residents across Ukraine.
In Putin’s geopolitical primer, the West betrayed Russia after the end of the Cold War in 1991, expanding its structures to the east instead of helping to rebuild the country that ruled the Soviet Union.
Indeed, 11 ex-communist countries have been absorbed by the European Union since then, and 14 by NATO.
Since the war in Georgia (2008), Putin has made it clear that the movement should end. In 2014, he stunned the West by annexing Crimea and inciting revolt in Donbass.
In common with these three places is the existence of predominantly Russian ethnic areas. When Putin said the end of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century, he spoke of the loss of a defense belt on its periphery and, nominally, he cited the Russians who remained in the new free countries.
This creates credible mistrust of Russian intentions. So few analysts believe in a war, it’s good to remember that whenever Putin was questioned, he was betting on external actions, like in Crimea itself or in Syria (2015).
And the Russian leader, who has just regulated the possibility of trying to stay in power until 2036, is at the worst popularity level in his two decades in power (albeit at a comfortable 60%).
Ukraine and Belarus, the dictatorship it supports, are the main shields between its borders and hostile NATO countries in Eastern Europe. “Putin represents what the Russian elite think. They want to be Westerners, but with the right distance,” said Konstantin Frolov, an independent Russian analyst.
Annexation of the Donbass is not desired by the Kremlin because of the high economic cost embedded – in Crimea, there has been more than 5 billion dollars of work since 2014. What interests Putin is to leave the ‘Ukraine outside of Europe.
There are still other issues that can trigger a conflict. The Ukrainians have cut off the water supply to Crimea, which receives 85% of what it consumes from its former country. On Tuesday, Zelensky ordered special training for reservists in the border region of the two territories.