Russia Toughens Posture on Ukraine 01/22 09:25
With tens of thousands of Russian troops positioned near Ukraine, the
Kremlin has kept the U.S. and its allies guessing about its next moves in the
worst security crisis to emerge between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
MOSCOW (AP) -- With tens of thousands of Russian troops positioned near
Ukraine, the Kremlin has kept the U.S. and its allies guessing about its next
moves in the worst security crisis to emerge between Moscow and the West since
the Cold War.
Amid fears of an imminent attack on Ukraine, Russia has further upped the
ante by announcing more military drills in the region. It also has refused to
rule out the possibility of military deployments to the Caribbean, and
President Vladimir Putin has reached out to leaders opposed to the West.
The military muscle-flexing reflects a bold attempt by the Kremlin to halt
decades of NATO expansion after the end of the Cold War. In talks with the
United States, Russia demands legally binding guarantees that the alliance will
not embrace Ukraine and other former Soviet nations, or place weapons there. It
also wants NATO to pull back its forces from countries in Central and Eastern
Europe that joined the alliance since the 1990s.
Putin has described NATO membership for Ukraine and the others as well as
the alliance's weapons deployments there as a red line for Moscow, warning that
he would order unspecified "military-technical measures" if the demands aren't
Putin pointed to NATO drills with the Ukrainian military, increasingly
frequent visits of the alliance warships in the Black Sea and the flights of
U.S. bombers near Crimea to emphasize the urgency of Russia's security demands.
He argued that by creating training centers in Ukraine, Western powers can
establish a military foothold there even without its joining NATO.
"We have nowhere to retreat," Putin said. "They have taken it to the point
where we simply must tell them: 'Stop!'"
Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, has denied it
intends to attack its neighbor. Last year, however, Putin issued a stark
warning that an attempt by Ukraine to reclaim control of the areas in the east
controlled by Russia-backed separatists would have "grave consequences for
While Ukrainian authorities denied planning such offensive, U.S.
intelligence officials concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to
carry out acts of sabotage in the rebel east and blame them on Ukraine in a
"false-flag operation" to create a pretext for possible invasion. Russia has
rejected the claim as "total disinformation."
Putin has repeatedly asserted that Russians and Ukrainians are "one people,"
and says large chunks of Ukrainian territory are historic parts of Russia --
arbitrarily granted to Ukraine by Communist leaders during Soviet times.
Over 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting in
Ukraine's industrial heartland called the Donbas, where the Moscow-supported
insurgency erupted shortly after the annexation of Crimea. A 2015 peace deal
brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles, but a political
settlement has stalled, and frequent skirmishes have continued along the tense
line of contact.
In early 2021, a spike in cease-fire violations in the east and a Russian
troop concentration near Ukraine ignited the invasion fears, but tensions
abated when Moscow pulled back the bulk of its forces after maneuvers in April.
The military buildup near Ukraine resumed in the fall, with Ukrainian and
Western officials warning that the increasing troop concentration could herald
a multipronged Russian attack.
Putin noted with satisfaction that Russia has caused a "certain stress" in
the West. "It's necessary to keep them in that condition for as long as
possible," he said in November, ordering his diplomats to push for binding
guarantees against NATO expansion.
While the U.S. and its allies rejected the Russian demands for a halt to
NATO expansion, some observers note that Moscow's insistence on a written reply
may reflect an intention to use it as an argument for a possible escalation.
"At this stage, the parties don't intend to compromise and want to shift
responsibility for a potential conflict," said Kirill Rogov, a Moscow-based
Adding to an estimated 100,000 troops deployed near Ukraine, Russia also has
moved more troops from Siberia and the Far East for joint drills with its ally
Belarus, which also borders Ukraine. In those exercises, Russian military units
have moved to areas near Belarus' southern border, which is about 75 kilometers
(47 miles) from Kyiv.
Earlier this week, the Russian Defense Ministry also announced a series of
naval maneuvers in the Black Sea and more distant areas such as the
Mediterranean, northeastern Atlantic and the Pacific. The exercises that will
start this month and last through February would involve over 140 ships, dozens
of aircraft and more than 10,000 personnel.
Amid the tensions, Putin also worked to strengthen alliances with the
countries opposed to the West. He has hosted Iran's hard-line president for
talks on expanding cooperation and is set to travel to the opening of the
Winter Olympics in Beijing where he will hold talks with Chinese President Xi
In recent days, Putin also spoke by phone with the leaders of Nicaragua and
Venezuela, and a Russian government plane was recently seen cruising between
Cuba and Venezuela in a possible harbinger of the next Kremlin moves.
After the U.S. and its allies rejected Russia's demands for a halt to NATO
expansion, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov kept the door open
for the deployment of military assets to Cuba and Venezuela.
While voicing concern that NATO could potentially use Ukrainian territory
for the deployment of missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes,
Putin has warned that Russian warships armed with the latest Zircon hypersonic
cruise missile would give Russia a similar capability if deployed in neutral
Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Russian foreign policy expert, observed that with
Russia and the West taking intransigent stands in the talks, an escalation
"Tensions will be high, including demonstrations of force not necessarily
near or in Ukraine," Lukyanov wrote in a commentary. "Real talks with some room
for maneuvering and a broader agenda would ideally begin only after the next
round of escalation in order to ease tensions."