The discussions between the United States and Russia have hit an all-time low since the Cold War. The two countries’ attitudes have worsened in parallel to Moscow’s increase of military presence along the Ukrainian border. Prior to this, the relations had already deteriorated after the Belarus-Poland migrant crisis, during which Putin supported Belarus president Lukashenko. The Kremlin's move has been interpreted by the US and the Western countries as a strategy aimed at causing distress among the Eurozone to pursue its geopolitical goals. According to analysts, Moscow has been exploiting the migrant crisis at the Belarus-Poland frontiers as a decoy to attack Ukraine. Thanks to the partnership with Belarus, Russia has been able to deploy strategic bombers at the border with Ukraine as part of a joint training plan between the two nations. Despite the criticisms, Russia has defended its presence on the perimeter. According to the Russian deputy at the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, Moscow has “obligations also within the unity between Russia and Belarus. So if there is a build-up of military resources on the border with Belarus, we have to react. This is just reconnaissance flights, nothing more than this”. Nonetheless, this operation has further strained the relations between the US and the Western nations on one side, and Russia on the other, leading the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken to warn Russia of "serious consequences" were it to attack Ukraine.
The United States has stated their position on the potential aggression of Ukraine after the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met at the forum of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on December the 2nd.
Antony Blinken's firm position against the Kremlin is based on intelligence reports asserting that Russia is preparing for a “large scale” attack. Indeed, the Western intelligence and the Pentagon have qualified Russia’s actions at the Belarus-Ukraine border as “unusual in size and scope”, raising concerns in Europe and Washington. "I made very clear our deep concerns and our resolve to hold Russia responsible for its actions, including our commitment to work with European allies to impose severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine", Blinken stated after the OSCE conference. He also added that “(I)t’s now on Russia to de-escalate the current tensions by reversing the recent troop buildup, returning forces to normal peacetime positions and refraining from further intimidation and attempts to destabilise Ukraine”.
Alongside financial sanctions, the Western governments might use the German Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as a lever against a possible invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, the Russian government is waiting for the German administration to grant the approval to start pumping gas in the Baltic Sea.
According to the Kremlin, Ukraine is using “aggressive” rhetoric to incite threatening actions along the border between the Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists. However, these accusations have been denied by both Washington and Kyiv. Commenting on the Russian declarations, Blinken affirmed that “(T)he idea that Ukraine represents a threat to Russia would be a bad joke if things weren't so serious. NATO itself is a defensive alliance, we're not a threat to Russia”. Similarly, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has opposed the allegations of an attack by officially confirming that “Ukraine does not plan any military offensive in Donbass. This is Russian propaganda nonsense in order to cover up Russia's own preparations for a potential attack”.
Prior to the OSCE meeting, Russian president Putin affirmed Moscow would oversee that the United States ensures that NATO limits its presence in Ukraine, a country that does not belong to the security alliance. According to President Putin, the NATO military assistance to Ukraine and the Western missile defence systems that have been installed are crossing a “red line”. During the security meeting, Sergei Lavrov has further highlighted the importance of this issue, stating that “(T)urning our neighbouring countries into bridgeheads of confrontation with Russia and deploying NATO forces in direct proximity to areas of strategic importance for our security is categorically unacceptable”. Moreover, he said that were the United States to refuse to discuss about these security threats, Russia would need to determine what measures to take. Lavrov concluded declaring that Moscow would soon propose a new European security pact that would limit NATO expansion towards the East.
The crisis is growing more and more complex with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov asserting that “(T)here is no movement on bilateral affairs, which are more and more reaching an acute crisis phase. There is no mutual understanding about how to de-escalate the situation in Europe”. In the latest news, American intelligence systems seem to have discovered that Russia plans an attack on Ukraine involving around 175.000 soldiers, believed to take place just after the beginning of the new year. Since the matter has reached new heights, the geopolitical issue will be solved at the presidential level. As a consequence, a video call between Putin and Biden is scheduled for Tuesday the 7th of December.
Written by Cinzia Saro
Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.