Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.
Tension continues to grip the world as the Russian Federation threatens to launch yet another invasion of Ukrainian territory – this time far greater than before. According to Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba, 54 battalion tactical groups have been deployed by Moscow in close proximity to Ukrainian territory. This means more than 106,000 well-trained regular troops, 1,500 tanks, 3,600 armoured combat vehicles, and 1,900 artillery stand ready to launch a major military operation. Russia is capable of positioning even more troops in a very short period, literally within days. Furthermore, on January 12 Russia decided to conduct another military exercise on Ukraine’s borders with about 3000 servicemen participating. Extremely concerning are the reports that Russia is also bringing its attack helicopters closer. Right now, we’re at the tipping point.
January 14, hacker groups which appear to be associated with Russian intelligence services launched a massive cyberattack which targeted several Ukrainian government websites. As part of the attacks, messages were posted in three languages: Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian. “All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst. This is for your past, present and future.”
That same day the White House has accused Russia of sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine in order to stage an incident that could provide a pretext for an invasion. White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that U.S. intelligence indicates that Russia “has prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in Ukraine. The operatives are trained in urban warfare and using explosives to conduct acts of sabotage.”
“Our intelligence also indicates that Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow division in Ukraine… The Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” she added.
January 15 the Government of Canada updated its travel advisory for Ukraine to avoid all non-essential travel “due to ongoing Russian aggression and military buildup in and around the country.”
Meanwhile, talks between Russia and the West have reached an impasse. Diplomats offered a dire assessment of developments at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on January 13. “It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years,” Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said, launching his country's yearlong chairmanship of the 57-member security organization.
Russia Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 14 said that Moscow has “run out of patience” with the West and expects a written response to its demands for security guarantees. What Russia wants is for NATO to roll back to its Cold War membership and a pledge that the alliance will never admit former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia.
These demands were rejected – and rightly so. NATO dd not expand into the former Soviet satellite states and the three Baltic Republics out of any wish to threaten Russia. It accepted the requests from those nations because they had suffered decades of Russian occupation and wanted security against an ever-present Russian threat. The same goes for Ukraine and Georgia, both of which have suffered even longer and have been invaded by Russia.
So far, the West is standing firm and stand firm it must. Aside from the fact that NATO cannot and must not accede to Russia’s demands, Russia cannot be trusted to adhere to any agreements it signs. That is an historical fact.
No one knows this better than Ukrainians. Moscow’s duplicity dates back to the 1654 Treaty Of Pereyaslav between the Kozak state of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the Tsardom of Muscovy. What Ukrainians believed was a military alliance against Poland, the Russians used as an excuse to occupy Ukrainian lands and systematically quash the limited freedom and autonomy Ukraine maintained. And most recently, we have the Budapest Memorandum by which Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in return for guarantees of its independence and sovereignty that were pledged by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. Russia, of course, blatantly violated this agreement by its invasions of Crimea and Donbas in 2014.
Eerik-Niiles Kross, a former Estonian intelligence director and current Member of Parliament who participated in the Estonian-Russian negotiations on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia in the early ‘90s, has this to offer:
“The question is: if the West does not submit to this manipulation, is Russia still prepared to go to war, at least against Ukraine? It depends on the credibility of the West’s response. As of today, such a credible response is nowhere to be seen. Peace and de-escalation plans and telephone calls are today a sure sign for Moscow that there will be no opposition. Putin holds negotiations with a pistol on the table, and if the other negotiating party puts a box of chocolates on the table instead of a bigger pistol, things are clear for Putin. The West may be ‘concerned’ — and Russia may take by war whatever it considers necessary.”
In a nutshell Russia cannot be trusted to adhere to any agreement it signs and understands only one thing – brute force. The West must not only stand firm, it should be prepared to offer Ukraine any military assistance it may need to stave off any further Russian aggression.