The crisis between Russia and NATO intensified on Tuesday (13), leading US President Joe Biden to call on Vladimir Putin and offer the Russian leader a summit on military activities around Ukraine.
Moscow had accused the United States of being “the adversary” and declared that the Western military alliance is deploying 40,000 troops at the borders close to its territory.
The US-led group has demanded an end to “provocative actions” by the Kremlin in Ukraine, near where Vladimir Putin’s government has concentrated around 83,000 troops in the past two weeks.
“The president expressed our concern over the unexpected military escalation of Russia in occupied Crimea and on the borders of Ukraine,” a White House statement said.
It was the second call between the two presidents, involved in altercations since Biden took office in January. The Kremlin did not comment on the summit issue, but confirmed that the conversation was about Ukraine and topics such as nuclear weapons control.
The tension revolves around Donbass, a predominantly Russian ethnic region in eastern Ukraine that has been in a frozen state of civil war since 2014, with half of its territory occupied by Moscow-backed separatists.
In that year, Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president was overthrown, and in order to prevent his neighbor from permanently entering Western orbit and weakening his geopolitical position by bringing opposing forces to its borders, Putin annexed the Crimean peninsula, also of Russian ethnic majority.
In eastern Ukraine, however, the situation remained undefined. More than 13,000 people have died in the fighting, concentrated until 2015 and sporadic since, but Azerbaijan’s success in resolving “manu militari” its differences with Armenia last year seems to have inspired the Ukraine to try to do the same.
This reading is contested by the Ukrainians, who stress that part of their territory is under rebel occupation. In any case, the unpopular President Volodimir Zelinski is being pushed by his rivals to take a more belligerent stance than he had previously rejected.
The result was the relocation of 33 units of his army to the border regions of the two self-proclaimed Eastern People’s Republics, Donetsk and Lugansk, earlier this year.
The Russian response has come in recent weeks, with the huge concentration of troops that has raised alarm among Western leaders, led by Biden. The American was noted for harsh rhetoric against Putin, whom he called a murderer. European countries with energy deals with Moscow, like Germany and France, tend to seek more diplomacy.
Yet they all joined in a statement by the G7, the group of the world’s seven most developed economies, calling on Russia to stop destabilizing Ukraine, released on Monday (12).
On Tuesday NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met Ukrainian Defense Minister Dmitro Kuleba in Brussels. Both called for an end to the Russian movements, the most important since 2014, and Kuleba again called for the speed of his country’s integration process into NATO, which is practically impossible. Club rules require a member not to have territorial disputes, and access in 2020 for its newest member, the turbulent North Macedonia, has taken 21 years.
Later, Kuleba met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Russia must defuse its forces immediately,” he said.
In Moscow, Defense Minister Sergei Choigu said he was working with reports that NATO was moving forces from North America to Europe. According to Russian news agencies, “40,000 troops and 15,000 weapons, including strategic planes, will be placed” near Russia.
In addition, this week, two American warships will enter the Black Sea, which bathes the disputed region and is the Russians’ strategic exit to the Mediterranean. In response, Moscow moved more than 12 smaller ships from the Caspian Sea flotilla to the waters to join the local fleet.
“The forces in Europe are moving towards the Russian border, mainly in the Black Sea and in the Baltic region,” he said. In response, over the past three weeks, Moscow has deployed two armies and three airborne units to “train” in these areas, which will end in two weeks.
Vice-Chancellor Sergei Riabkov also said on Tuesday that the United States “should stay on the sidelines [da Ucrânia] for your good. He called the country “our adversary”.
It’s unclear whether such exercises employ the same forces as the week before, but the deadline to end them may be a signal for the West to try to defuse the tension.
Russian forces are around Donbass and in Crimea, according to the Ukrainian government. Moscow has not denied it. The exchange of accusations and the troop movements are the most intense since the crisis of the annexation of Crimea. According to Choigu, there has been a 50% increase in NATO naval and air reconnaissance activities along Russia’s borders since January.
There is a relative consensus among analysts that the war doesn’t really matter to anyone and that Putin is taking advantage of the situation to try to implement the Minsk Agreements once and for all (2014-15) , which are not accepted by Kiev to keep the rebel republics autonomous.
In contrast, especially in Russia, there is little doubt that the Kremlin will intervene if there is a massive Ukrainian attack on positions in the Donbass. This, however, is equally dubious with the escalating crisis. The tension is so great that it has started to involve elements as diverse as the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the first manned space flight, performed by the Russian-born Soviet Yuri Gagarin.
In the second, Zelensky, President of Ukraine, complained that Moscow had appropriated the event, ignoring the role of Ukrainians in the space program.
He was countered by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who praised the role of the 15 republics that subsequently formed the Soviet Union in the feat and took the opportunity to remember the proliferation of neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine. .
The subject is very controversial, as it is well known that Ukrainian military units celebrate groups that fought alongside the Nazis against the Soviets in the conflict for the country during World War II. Kiev, of course, denies any intention to celebrate fascism.