After spending nearly two weeks downplaying its military movements near the Ukrainian border, the Kremlin said on Friday (9) that it saw a risk of civil war in the neighboring country and, if so, should intervene.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov went further and even drew up a humanitarian veneer for possible action in support of the pro-Russian separatist rebels who control the two autonomous areas in eastern Ukraine.
“The whole world, including Russia, will take measures to prevent a repeat of the events of 1995 in Srebenica, Ukraine, in case full military action resumes there,” he said.
He spoke of the massacre of 8,373 Muslims by Serbian forces during the invasion of this town in Bosnia, one of the symbols of the war that fragmented Yugoslavia and of the inaction of the international community in the face of the genocide.
To this day, the massacre is at the center of controversy in Europe. Peskov sought to reinforce this by saying that “Russia and civilized European countries will not allow” a repeat of events. And he pointed the finger at the Ukrainian government.
“If a civil war with large-scale military activities resumes near our borders, it will pose a threat to Russia’s national security,” Peskov said, saying that “it is clear that Kiev does not reject the idea of use of force. “.
To add tension to the scenario, the United States decided to send two warships to the Black Sea, which precisely borders the conflict zones and is a vital route for the Russians to access the Mediterranean.
Turkey said the two ships, possibly destroying missile launchers, had been ordered to transit through its Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, which connect the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
Last week, the Kremlin sent around 4,000 troops to the border with Ukraine, where Russian bases are located. He also sent tanks and chariots to the Crimea. There have been protests in the West and pledges of support from President Joe Biden and NATO (Western military alliance) to Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine has resumed this year with the reinforcement of troops from Kiev on part of the 500 km border with areas which, since 2014, have been in separatist hands.
That year, the country’s pro-Putin government was overthrown and Moscow responded by annexing Crimea, a historically Russian region, and fomenting civil war in the largely ethnic Russian region of Lugansk and Donetsk.
The most violent fighting ended in 2015, when the second version of the so-called Minsk accords was signed. Only, they were never implemented, because they gave autonomy to the rebel zones, and skirmishes followed at low intensity. 13 thousand people have already died.
For Putin, the frozen status of the conflict solves his main problem, which is to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO or the European Union. Geopolitically, Russia needs the neutral or allied country as a shield for European forces.
“Moscow cannot afford to let the declared autonomous republics lose, especially in a situation that will look like a defeat for an American satellite,” says Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow Center for Technology and Strategy Analysis .
At the same time, he said, “the Americans are not going to fight for Ukraine with Russia and Moscow clearly demonstrates that if Kiev goes to war in the Donbass, all of its territory will be threatened.” With that, he said by message, the risk of all-out war still seems low.
Donbass is the historical name for the region which includes Lugansk and Donetsk, about half of which is occupied by rebels.
An important factor is the political fragility of the Ukrainian president, the actor Volodimir Zelenski. With weak approval, he left the post of negotiator and gave in to pressure from the opposition most strongly opposed to Russia.
This elite saw Azerbaijan’s success in using military force last year, with Turkish backing, to thaw out yet another conflict on the Russian periphery, that of the Armenian engagement in Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku has recovered the districts in the region and is now in a better negotiating position.
For Pukhov, however, the situation in Ukraine is quite different and Moscow wants, with its strong position, to seek the implementation of the Minsk agreements. If that happens, any absorption of Kiev by NATO is practically unsustainable, although Zelensky made a call for it this week.