Russian President Vladimir Putin (former) and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky attend the Normandy Quad Summit in the Murat Lounge of the Elysee Palace; the so-called Normandy IV in the form of The talks involved representatives of Ukraine, Germany, France and Russia as they discussed resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Mikhail Metzel | TASS | Getty Images
Russia’s deal with the West — or, more accurately, its conflict — is centered on a country that has been a particular flashpoint of confrontation in recent years: Ukraine.
This week saw a series of high-stakes meetings between Russian and Western officials focused on trying to defuse rising tensions between Russia and its neighbors.
A particular question at the moment is whether Ukraine — a border state between Russia and the rest of Europe, eager to join the European Union — could one day become a member of the Western military alliance NATO.
This is one possibility that Russia strongly opposes.
As the Russian committee prepares to meet NATO officials in Brussels on Wednesday, CNBC offered a guide on why Russia cares so much about Ukraine and how far it might be willing to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.
Low-level fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces has continued since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 saw relations between its European neighbors slump and support for a pro-Russian uprising in the east of the country.
However, tensions have escalated further in recent months as multiple reports of a build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border have sparked widespread speculation that Russia is preparing to invade the country.
Russia denies it has repeatedly planned to do so, and the US, EU and NATO have warned Russia, as President Joe Biden told President Vladimir Putin in a December 30 phone call, “If Russia invades Ukraine further, it will respond decisively.”
However, how far the West will defend Ukraine is a big question.
Last month, Russia made several major demands to the West on security issues such as Ukraine, in the draft security protocol.
Among them, it requires the United States to prevent the further eastward expansion of NATO and not allow the former Soviet Union countries to join NATO.
In the draft agreement, Russia also demands that the United States “refrain from establishing military bases on the territory of any former Soviet state that is not yet a member of NATO” or “use its infrastructure for any military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them. .”
Although not named in the draft agreement, Ukraine is clearly the target of the Russians; Ukraine is a former Soviet republic, as are Russia’s allies Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Armenia. Former Soviet states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are already NATO members.
Russia has and often expresses its dislike of U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe, Poland and Romania, and Strengthening NATO’s presence in the Baltic states and Poland, as NATO describes it as a “battlegroup ready to fight”.
As far as the U.S. and NATO are concerned, in the words of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who leads the U.S., demanding that Ukraine be excluded from NATO membership, or that it withdraw from NATO deployments in Eastern Europe, is “unworkable.” of”. The delegation met with Russian officials in Geneva on Monday.
While she noted that the U.S. had opposed Russia’s security proposals, her Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov said the talks, lasting about seven hours, were “difficult” and suggested that Moscow’s demands had not changed, telling reporters “It is absolutely mandatory to ensure that Ukraine is always — forever and ever — a member of NATO.”
With no apparent progress on Monday’s talks, hopes were pinned on further discussions between Russian and NATO officials in Brussels on Wednesday and more discussions at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday in Vienna.
Putin has made no secret of his belief that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a disaster for Russia, describing it as the “greatest geopolitical tragedy” of the 20th century.th century.
Given its geographical location – it is a bulwark between Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe – and its symbolic and historical importance to Russia, Ukraine is of particular importance to Russia and is often seen as “The jewel in the crown” belonged to the former Soviet Empire.
Putin praised Ukraine’s cultural, linguistic and economic ties with Russia, last year calling Russians and Ukrainians “one people”. He even wrote an article on the subject entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”.
Such sentiments are not prevalent in Ukraine, where the government under President Volodymyr Zelensky has sought economic aid and geopolitical strength westward, especially in the years following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Ukraine has repeatedly expressed a desire to join the European Union and NATO, in a geopolitical blow to a resurgent Russia’s scramble for power and influence in the region.
Many strategists and close followers of Russian politics believe that Putin, who has alternated between prime minister and president since late 1999, has a strong desire to invade Ukraine.
Maximilian Hess, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, told CNBC on Tuesday that “Russia is not only trying to ban Ukraine from the alliance — it has been trying to do so since Ukraine applied to join the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2008 — And it also removes Ukraine from the Western sphere of influence to which it moved since the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution.”
“Joining NATO is particularly symbolic, but Russia will also not accept a dramatic expansion of Western military support for Ukraine.”
One of the biggest questions facing Western officials is how far Russia is willing to stop Ukraine’s drift into Europe and the West and increase and expand its presence and influence in the country.
During Monday’s talks, the Russian delegation insisted there were no plans to invade Ukraine, but analysts were less sure.
Angela Stant, director emeritus of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies at Georgetown University, told CNBC on Tuesday that the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remains open. “Let’s say it’s 50-50 at the moment,” she said, adding that it might be a “more limited incursion” rather than a massive one.
“The danger remains,” she said.
Maximilian Hess agreed, noting that “I do think Russia is ready for a war, but I don’t think the Kremlin wants a war beyond the current front. The risk of encountering continued guerrilla resistance would be very high, especially It is if they go beyond Donetsk and Luhansk,” he said.
Hess added that Russia does need a “credible threat of aggression” to keep it going, especially since it played a key role in bringing the United States to the negotiating table.
“The risk of a renewed or extended Russian invasion – of course, Ukraine is already facing continued Russian invasion of Crimea and proxy occupation of parts of Donetsk and Luhansk – has never completely subsided over the past eight years , and it is unlikely that Ukraine’s potential success after these talks will remain limited because of its ability to maintain capacity is still seen as key to the Kremlin’s long-term self-preservation,” he commented.
Meanwhile, former British ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton told CNBC on Tuesday Russia and US both want to avoid military confrontation Moscow simply wants what it sees its interests to be “served.”