Russia is risking all-out war to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO

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  • Russia’s behavior – or, more accurately, its conflict – with the West has focused on one country that has been a particular flashpoint for confrontation in recent years: Ukraine.
  • It has come to mind this week with a series of high-level meetings between Russian and Western officials.
  • The talks are focused on trying to defuse heightened tensions between Russia and its neighbor Ukraine.

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Russia’s dealings – or, more accurately, its conflicts – with the West are centered on one country that has been a particular flashpoint for confrontation in recent years: Ukraine.

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It is again in focus this week with several high-level meetings between Russian and Western officials focused on trying to defuse rising tensions between Russia and its neighbors.

A particular issue right now is whether Ukraine – a border country between Russia and the rest of Europe, and which aspires to join the European Union – could one day become a member of the Western military alliance NATO.

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Russia strongly opposes this.

As the Council of Russia prepares to meet NATO officials in Brussels on Wednesday, CNBC has a guide on why Russia cares so much about Ukraine and how far it will go to prevent Ukraine from joining the coalition. can be ready.

Why does Ukraine matter?

Ties between the European neighbors diminished in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and it supported a pro-Russian insurgency in the country’s east, where low-level fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian troops has continued. Is.

Tensions have risen in recent months amid multiple reports of Russian troops gathering along the border with Ukraine, prompting widespread speculation that Russia is preparing to invade the country, although it has repeatedly Denies that he plans to do so.

For their part, the US, the European Union and NATO have warned Russia that they will, as President Joe Biden told President Vladimir Putin during a phone call on December 30, “Respond decisively if Russia attacks Ukraine further.” How far the West will go to defend Ukraine, however, remains a big question.

What does Russia want?

Last month, Russia put forward several key demands on Ukraine to the West, among other security matters, in the draft security agreement,

In the document, it demanded that the US should halt NATO’s eastward expansion and not allow former Soviet states to join the alliance.

Russia also demanded in the draft agreement that the US “not establish military bases” in the territories of any former Soviet states that are not already members of NATO, or “use its infrastructure for any military activities”. or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”

Although not mentioned by name in the draft agreement, Ukraine is an obvious focal point for Russians – it is a former Soviet republic, as are Russian allies Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Armenia. The former Soviet states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are already members of NATO.

Russia has already, and often has, expressed its dislike for US missile defense complexes in Poland and Romania in Eastern Europe and Strengthening NATO presence in the Baltic states and Poland, as NATO describes them, in terms of “combat-ready battle groups”.,

For their part, the US and NATO have already described demands that Ukraine not be admitted to NATO, or that it withdraw NATO deployments to Eastern Europe as “non-starting” – In the words of US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the US delegation in talks with Russian officials in Geneva on Monday.

While she noted that the US had pushed back against Russia’s security proposals, her Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov said the talks, which lasted about seven hours, were “difficult” and indicated that Moscow’s demands did not change. “It is absolutely imperative to ensure that Ukraine never – never – becomes a member of NATO,” he told reporters.

With no clear progress in talks on Monday, hopes are pinned on further discussions between Russian and NATO officials in Brussels on Wednesday and on Thursday at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna.

Why is Russia doing this?

Putin has made no bones about the fact that he thought the breakup of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe for Russia, describing it as the “greatest geopolitical tragedy” of the 20s.th century.

Ukraine is of particular importance to Russia, given its location – it stands as a dam between Russia and the states of the Eastern European Union – as well as symbolic and historical significance, often seen as a “jewel in the crown” of the former Soviet Empire.

Putin has praised Ukraine’s cultural, linguistic and economic ties with Russia, describing Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” last year. He also wrote an essay on the subject, entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”

The sentiment is largely not needed in Ukraine, with the country’s government under President Volodymyr Zelensky looking west for economic aid and geopolitical strength, especially in the years following the Russian 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Ukraine has repeatedly expressed its desire to join the EU and NATO, which represents a geopolitical kick in the teeth for a resurgent Russia seeking to maintain power and influence in the region.

Many strategists and close followers of Russian politics believe that Putin, who has been in power alternately between prime minister and president since late 1999, has a strong desire to invade Ukraine.

Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow Maximilian Hess told CNBC on Tuesday that “Russia not only wants to prevent Ukraine from joining the coalition — something it has tried to do since Ukraine’s 2008 NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) application.” has demanded – but also to remove Ukraine from the Western sphere of influence where it has moved since the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014.”

“NATO membership is particularly symbolic, but Russia will not accept a situation in which the West significantly expands military support to Ukraine.”

How far is Russia ready to go?

The biggest question facing Western officials is how far Russia is willing to go to stop Ukraine’s drift towards Europe and the West, and to expand and expand its presence and influence in the country.

In talks on Monday, Russia’s delegation insisted there were no plans to invade Ukraine, but analysts are not so sure.

Angela Stant, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, told CNBC on Tuesday that there could still be a Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Let’s say, 50-50 at the moment,” she said, adding that it could be a “more limited attack” rather than a massive one.

“That danger is still there,” she said.

Hess agreed, noting that “I think Russia is ready to go to war, but I don’t think the Kremlin wishes to go to war any further than existing fronts. The risk of encountering continued guerrilla resistance would be too high.” , especially if they overtake Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts,” he said.

Russia needs a “credible invasion threat” to remain in place, Hayes said, although the US in particular has been instrumental in bringing the US to the table.

“The risk of a new or expanded Russian invasion – of course Ukraine is already facing the ongoing Russian invasion of Crimea and the proxy occupation of Donetsk and parts of Luhansk – has never been fully reduced in these past eight years. Capability is unlikely to be maintained after these talks. Restricting Ukraine’s potential success is still seen as the key to the Kremlin’s long-term self-preservation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tony Brenton, a former British ambassador to Russia, told CNBC on Tuesday that both Russia and the US want to avoid a military confrontation and that Moscow just wants what it sees as “accommodating” its interests.

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