1 April 2021   Leave a comment

There are reports that Russia has sent an additional 4,000 troops to the border with Ukraine. The move comes after years of a low-level of military activity in the eastern region of Ukraine called Donbass and failed attempts to broker a cease-fire among Ukrainian forces and rebels supported by Russia. Foreign Policy describes the context of the move:

“Russia recently conducted a military exercise in the region and announced last week that it would permanently base an airborne regiment in Crimea, which experts say could account for some, but not all, of the recent troop movements.

“’They are conducting a sizable deployment, and in a manner intended to be visible, but this so far does not appear to be the sort of force size one would expect for an invasion of Kherson Oblast [the Ukrainian region opposite Crimea] or a large-scale operation along those lines,’ said Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist with CNA. ‘There is a host of other activity along Ukraine’s borders, which consequently raises questions about intentions,’ he added.

“That, combined with a flare-up in fighting in eastern Ukraine between the military and Russian-backed separatists, is stoking a lot of unease in Washington and European capitals. But Kofman cautioned against alarmism. ‘To me, it does not appear that Russia is positioning itself for an imminent invasion,’ he said, adding that the build-up was more likely an effort to coerce Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the actions ‘muscle-flexing’ in a Russian attempt to raise pressure amid stalled peace talks.”

In the Department of State Press Briefing today, the State Department spokesperson made these comments:

MR PRICE: Yeah, he – he did, correct. No, but I think it’s worth us reiterating it from here and, of course, when we talk about the state of the relationship between the United States and Russia, we can’t forget Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine. And we’re absolutely concerned by recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine, including violations of the July 2020 ceasefire that led to the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers on March 26th and injuries to others. Russia’s destabilizing actions undermine the de-escalation intentions achieved through the OSCE-brokered agreement of July of last year.

“Additionally, we are aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements in – on Ukraine’s borders. We are discussing our concerns about that increase in tensions and ceasefire violations and regional tensions with NATO Allies. You’ve heard from various departments and agencies including the State Department; Secretary Blinken had a call with his Ukrainian counterpart yesterday. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had a call with his counterpart. And National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had a call with Andriy Yermak in Ukraine as well. We will continue to be in close touch with our partners in Kyiv and in Ukraine more broadly in the face of these recent escalations.”

The Russians have struck a belligerent tone on Ukraine but it is hard to determine whether the language reflects an intent to take over additional Ukrainian territory or whether it is merely a test of the new Biden Administration. Chatham House, a reliable British think tank, published an article that observed:

“The idea that the simmering conflict in Ukraine would burst into new fighting comes after a belligerent speech Putin made at the Davos Forum at the end of January. The Russian president said that ‘foreign policy propaganda rhetoric’ was growing, and he expected  ‘practical actions’ by America against Russia to become more aggressive.  Such a game with no rules, he said, ‘critically increases the risk of unilateral use of military force’. 

“He did not state who might be using military force, but the next day Margarita Simonyan, the boss of Russia’s RT English-language news channel, gave a fiery speech at a conference in the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine where she said: ‘Mother Russia, take Donbass home!’ “

Russian President Putin is facing declining popularity at home and challenges from popular protests led by dissident Alexei Navalny who is how in a Russian gulag. Additionally, European states also seem to be lining up in opposition to the Russian moves near the Ukraine border.

Posted April 1, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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