Russia draws closer to war as new weapons arrive at Ukrainian border | Ukraine

A flatbed car cruising through southwest Russia last week did not bode well for negotiations to avoid a bigger war with Ukraine.

On board was a Buk-M1, the kind of medium-range surface-to-air missile system that became notorious in 2014 after a missile fired from territory controlled by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine. shot down a Malaysian airliner, killing all 298 people on board.

If Russia goes to war in Ukraine, it still has to take a number of steps: establishing fuel supply lines, opening field hospitals and deploying air defense systems such as the Buk that would protect its heavy weaponry and his troops near the front.

Even as Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin participated in talks aimed at ending the crisis, Russia moved closer to being ready to launch a full-scale ground invasion of its neighbor.

“These data allow us to conclude that despite the negotiations between Biden and Putin, the concentration of Russian troops in the areas bordering the territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities continues,” wrote the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) – a research group online who used social media, railway timetables and other data to reveal details of Russia’s military build-up at the border.

Putin can always decide not to launch an invasion, as he leaves troops near the front as leverage for negotiations. But Russian and Western analysts predict that this military build-up – the second this year – portends a series of future crises over Ukraine as Putin seeks to reverse his westward trajectory.

Vladimir Putin attended a press conference in Sochi earlier this month. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin / TASS

“Even if Putin gets something from the West, serious talks or talks about guarantees, will that be enough for Putin?” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “We are witnessing the dawn of a new geopolitical adventurism from Russia.”

Despite the Putin-Biden talks, the crisis is worsening.

On Thursday, the Russian FSB said it had intercepted a Ukrainian ship in the Sea of ​​Azov near Crimea for failing to obey orders. A day later, Russia closed nearly 70% of the Sea of ​​Azov, a shared body of water also used by Ukraine, for shooting exercises. Then there is the escalation of rhetoric.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia and the United States could rush to a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. And Putin said the situation in eastern Ukraine ” looked like genocide ”at a recent meeting, raising concerns that he might be looking for a pretext to send his troops to the country.

With its military threat on the table, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday released its list of demands on how to end the crisis. Foremost among them was that NATO “officially disavows the 2008 NATO summit decision in Bucharest that“ Ukraine and Georgia will become members of NATO ””.

Putin has spent the past two decades trying to fight NATO expansion, but Ukraine’s possible membership of the military alliance has always touched deeper emotions and partly motivated him to order. annexation of Crimea and to provoke a war in eastern Ukraine which killed more than 14,000 people.

“I told them: please don’t touch Ukraine or there is going to be a problem,” Fyodor Lukyanov, an influential Russian foreign policy analyst, said of his discussions with colleagues. Westerners on NATO enlargement in the 2000s. “There is a real red line. Rightly or wrongly … this kind of engagement with Ukraine on military and security affairs – which is considered here as absolutely unacceptable.

Lukyanov said Putin saw it as his “duty as president” not to leave the “Ukrainian problem” – that is, its westward trajectory – to the next Russian leader.

The United States has sought to persuade Russia that Ukraine will not join the alliance anytime soon, but Moscow on Friday demanded a more formal statement. This was not the case, said NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg hours after the publication of the request. “NATO’s relations with Ukraine will be decided by the 30 NATO allies and Ukraine – no one else,” he said at a press conference with the new German chancellor , Olaf Scholz.

In Ukraine, support for NATO membership has increased dramatically in recent years as the country seeks protection from an increasingly aggressive Russia. And for nations on NATO’s eastern flank, allowing Russia to dictate alliance policy on Ukraine is seen as the first step on a slippery slope towards recognition of a Russian sphere of influence.

A satellite image of a Russian troop location in Voronezh, near the border with Ukraine
A satellite image of a Russian troop location in Voronezh, near the border with Ukraine. Photography: AP

“History shows that promises of neutrality from Ukraine or any other country in the region do nothing to appease Putin’s appetite; on the contrary, they feed it ”, wrote the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, in an article published by Foreign Affairs Friday. “The best way to respond to such ultimatums is to ignore them altogether. “

One wonders if Russia really wants to make a deal. Analysts noted that despite Moscow building up its forces for months, Russian diplomats had not prepared any official documents or even formulated the country’s demands until last week. And the idea of ​​assembling nearly 100,000 troops within striking distance of the Ukrainian border (the United States has said Russia could increase that number to 175,000 by the end of January) just to talk to Biden struck Western observers as exaggerated.

This brings us back to the Buk, which, as the CIT noted, had its numbers crudely painted in an effort to prevent identification. Russia used similar tactics during its clandestine invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

The clock is turning. Putin might back down, but it would be embarrassing to do so without a solid victory in hand. And Russia’s demands seem impossible for the West to meet: “Putin thinks that if Biden wants to, he can move mountains, he can convince allies and convince Kiev. [to make concessions]”This problem could cause Putin to demand the impossible and raise the stakes so high that it all ends in war.” Stanovaya said.

Martin E. Berry