Last week, Ukraine raised the alarm: Russia was engaged in a massive troop build-up in Crimea and on the border with Ukraine. Images of military convoys appeared on social media. Russia is said to have sent tanks, armored vehicles and missile installations to the border, and an estimated 4,000 soldiers.
Ukraine wants in NATO
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today called on NATO to speed up his country’s membership. According to him, it is the only way to end the fighting with the pro-Russian separatists in the country. Ukraine has long wanted to join NATO and, according to Zelensky, the need is now greater than ever. On the contrary, the Kremlin says that any NATO membership of Ukraine would only aggravate the situation.
In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimea peninsula and sparked civil war in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk fought for secession. In total, that battle has cost the lives of more than thirteen thousand people. This included 298 occupants of flight MH17, which was shot down by a Russian missile.
Several files have been in force since 2015, but they have been breached on a regular basis. The war was never really over. In recent weeks, there has been a serious revival of violence. What is not clear. Both parties blame each other.
The West is responding with concern to the mounting tension. The US High Command in Europe has raised the threat level, US President Joe Biden has said he will support Ukraine. The European Union has also said that it supports Kiev.
‘No offensive intentions’
A spokesman for Russian President Putin says there is no cause for concern. These are regular troop movements and Moscow has no offensive intentions, he says. According to the spokesman, the troops are only needed to ensure the security of Russia. Russia has in the past fiercely opposed NATO forces close to its borders.
‘Moscow has no interest in total escalation’
Russia correspondent Eva Hartog does not think Moscow intends to launch an offensive. “Russia benefits from instability in Eastern Ukraine. Because that weakens the position of Kiev. Nothing more annoying for Moscow than a strong neighbor along its border that beckons it to the West.
But Moscow has no interest in a total escalation: there is a hefty price tag that it has not been willing to pay until now. In Russia there is no enthusiasm for taking the areas into the hands of the rebels. Moscow does not deny its involvement in the war for nothing. It wants to pull the strings, but does so from the wings.
It seems more likely to me that Russia is sending a message to the West here, now that Joe Biden is America’s new president. Biden recently called Putin a murderer in an interview. It is clear that the two presidents will not become best friends. Actually, the Russians are saying to the West: Moscow is the boss in this region and you have to take that into account. And look: Moscow only has to conduct a series of military exercises and move troops and it is again about the threat from Russia. “