(MOSCOW) – Russia’s deputy defense minister has warned foreign ambassadors of a “high risk” of conflict between the country and its neighbor Ukraine – a day after President Vladimir Putin threatened to “diversify” the military and technical responses if the West did not respond to its stated concerns.
These latest messages from Moscow are the kind to lead the United States and other Western officials to believe that Putin will launch an assault on Ukraine, even after President Joe Biden warned him that it would lead to massive sanctions.
The Biden administration has repeatedly called for diplomacy with Russia to defuse tensions and end the war in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, nearly eight years after Russian troops armed separatist forces in a conflict that continues to simmer and claim casualties.
But Russia’s demands for security guarantees, including a ban on Ukraine’s NATO membership, have been called “unacceptable” by US officials – perhaps on purpose, so that Russia could later claim to have given diplomacy a boost.
Russia said it had no intention of invading, but demanded that the United States, NATO and Ukraine take its concerns seriously.
“We did not make the proposals just to see them blocked in terms of the diplomatic process, but in order to achieve a negotiated diplomatic outcome that would be set down in legally binding documents. We are aiming for that,” Putin said on Sunday.
His deputy defense minister, Alexander Fomin, again blamed NATO on Monday for provoking a conflict by sending warships and reconnaissance aircraft to support Ukraine. This echoes a statement last week by his boss, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who claimed that Ukraine, with the help of American mercenaries, is planning a chemical weapons attack.
“The alliance has recently moved to the practice of direct provocations accompanied by the high risk of turning into an armed confrontation,” Fomin told a meeting that included envoys from 14 NATO countries.
This is the kind of false pretext for an invasion that US officials and analysts have warned Russia could create to justify an invasion.
“Russia is apparently outraged by a crisis it caused,” said Mick Mulroy, a senior Trump administration Pentagon official and national security analyst for ABC News. “It was Russia who sent about 175,000 troops to the border and threatened to invade again if their demands were not met – ‘Do what I ask, or I will attack and occupy a country sovereign against all international norms “.”
The estimated number of Russian troops near Ukraine has ranged from 60,000 to more than 100,000, with a leaked US intelligence document warning that Russia may be ready to rapidly deploy up to 175,000. US officials cited these troop movements, as well as Russian propaganda attacks on Ukraine, which they claim have increased tenfold, and belligerent rhetoric as evidence of a possible invasion.
But diplomacy could avoid war. The United States and Russia have agreed to hold talks in January to address each side’s concerns, as well as NATO-Russia talks and meetings at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, according to US officials. The OSCE, a key security forum, deployed a war monitor in eastern Ukraine for years as the conflict claimed some 14,000 lives.
After coordinating a meeting between the Ukrainian government and Russian-controlled separatists last week, the OSCE said on Thursday that the two sides showed a “firm determination to adhere fully” to a ceasefire agreement. July 2020 fire. The statement was announced by Biden National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and the State Department, whose spokesperson said, “We hope the resulting peace will create the diplomatic space needed to defuse regional tensions and create a positive atmosphere for further discussions”.
There was no “resulting peace”. Three Ukrainian soldiers were injured in shelling that lasted for hours on Sunday. There have been five times more ceasefire violations this month than last December, according to the OSCE.
But there have been notable Russian troop movements, according to the official Interfax news agency, which reported that more than 10,000 troops withdrew from Ukraine’s borders after military exercises. The Kremlin also said Monday that it makes sense to engage NATO directly on its security concerns, in addition to the United States.
Whether this is yet another sign of hope that war can be averted is unclear. US officials said it was still unclear whether Putin had decided to invade, with tens of thousands of troops still in the region, including in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula invaded and seized by Russia in 2014.
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