As if they were two parallel lanes, on the one hand the deployment of weapons in the Baltic is accelerating and the chances of belligerence between Russia and Ukraine are growing. On the other hand, the efforts of the highest diplomatic flight try to stop the escalation. The world, meanwhile, undaunted witnesses an unexpected event for the vast majority: the concrete possibility of a war between powers. It is no longer just about the former Soviet republic and the imperial country of Vladimir Putin, but about a more delicate chessboard where the United States appears as the head of the North Atlantic Alliance.
At the close of this report Clarin’s special, the NATO allies had their forces in a “state of alert”. They had sent additional warships and fighter planes to eastern Europe. Washington was discussing with its European partners the next steps.
But, what are the keys to the conflict that paralyzes the West? What can be expected? This guide developed by the World section and the specials team of Clarion try to clear doubts and fears.
In recent weeks, international diplomacy has focused on trying to unblock a conflict that threatens to escalate in Eastern Europe. The United States and the European Union fear that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine. Last week, Washington and its allies warned Moscow that it would suffer dire consequences if “just one” of the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along the border makes inroads into Ukraine.
Ukraine signed an association and trade agreement with the European Union in 2013. Russia maneuvered to overthrow the Ukrainian government and placed an ally of Moscow in Kiev, which abandoned the agreement with the Europeans. That caused a revolt (Euromaidan) that overthrew President Viktor Yanukovych, who had to flee to Russia. From then on Ukraine had pro-European governments opposed to Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted by forcibly seizing the Ukrainian province of Crimea in 2014 and provoking an armed revolt in Donbass, the mining region of southeastern Ukraine, where slightly more of the population speaks Russian, not Ukrainian. The situation got stuck. The Donbass is still in the hands of the separatists, who have Russian support in men and weapons. Crimea is also in Russian hands.
Since then, Ukraine has strengthened its Armed Forces and has tried to get closer to the European Union and NATO. The doors of the European Union are closed and will remain so for decades. The NATO ones were opened a crack in 2008 when then US President George W. Bush promised them entry. Nothing moved but Russia considers that a Ukraine in NATO is a threat to Moscow. Some analysts believe that what Putin sees as a threat is that countries that were part of the Soviet Union are becoming democracies.
Russia denies that it wants to invade Ukraine but demands that NATO take measures that NATO considers unacceptable. One is that it renounce forever to join countries like Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It also asks NATO to withdraw troops and military material from the countries it joined after 1997. That is, from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Croatia, Albania… something that the NATO will not do it because it would be like abandoning member states of the organization.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1950 out of fear of the countries of Western Europe, militarily and economically weakened after World War II, of the military power of a Soviet Union that had reached Berlin in its fight against the Nazis. . And he hadn’t left. NATO now has 30 members. It is a defensive alliance whose base is based on the idea that an attack against one of its members is an attack against all of them and all must defend the attacked. NATO does not have its own troops or military means, but rather those that its member states place at its disposal. In addition to defending Europe’s eastern flank, in recent years it has had activities such as stabilizing the Balkans, counter-piracy missions off the coast of Somalia, or even policing the Mediterranean against human traffickers.
The Atlantic Alliance promised Ukraine in 2008 that one day it could join. That promise is not fulfilled nor does it seem likely to be fulfilled because NATO has no ambition to join a country in conflict. Russia does not want Ukraine to join NATO because on that day, like the small Baltic republics, military midgets, it would lose much of its influence in Ukraine. Moscow continues to see that country as part of its sphere of influence as in the years of the Cold War.
Western capitals offer to negotiate but in practice they would only agree to discuss weapons deployments in the region with Russia. NATO, like the European Union, ensures that any country is sovereign to decide which political, economic or military alliances it wants to join. And that Russia should ask itself why its neighbors look more to Brussels than to Moscow and why they fear from Russia only military, cyber attacks or illegal attempts to influence their electoral processes.
Ukraine, Washington and Brussels denounce that Russia has accumulated more than 100,000 soldiers (with battle tanks, military drones, helicopters, artillery pieces, electronic warfare means and other military paraphernalia) a few dozen kilometers from the Ukrainian border. This week it has sent several tens of thousands more to Belarus, where until February 20 they will be officially carrying out maneuvers in the southern regions, bordering Ukraine. NATO believes that Russia can double those numbers in a few days and that an attack would be imminent as soon as Putin gives the order. Russia says that it does not have to explain to anyone for troop movements within its borders, although the treaties it signed as a member of the OSCE do oblige other members (all of Europe and all its neighbors) to inform.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces would not resist a conventional Russian attack (the use of the Russian nuclear arsenal is always left out of the equation), although in recent years they have improved their weapons and the training of their troops. The Ukraine of today would better resist an attack than the Ukraine of 2014, but it would be insufficient against the Russian military machine. Some of the new weapons have come from countries such as Sweden, Poland or the Baltic Republics, in addition to the United States.
Belarus is a close ally of Russia. But the rest of the region fears an attack that some countries see as inevitable because they believe Putin has gone too far and will not get what he asks of NATO. Sweden was the loudest announcing its troop and materiel movements to the Baltic island of Gotland. But others, such as Finland or Denmark, have put their Air Force on alert, above all.
NATO has permanent bases in Lithuania, Poland and Romania, but it only has between 1,000 and 2,000 men and little heavy equipment. No one fears that in the event of a conflict, Russia would go beyond Ukraine, that as a non-NATO member it could receive more weapons but not open military support from NATO countries and the European Union.
Ruling out interfering in an open military conflict with Russia, which no one wants or seeks, the options center on Russia thinking that the pain that could be inflicted with economic sanctions is not worth attacking Ukraine. The European Union already has a sanctions regime against Russia, which European diplomatic sources consider would be strengthened “massively.” Among other options, it is being studied to remove Russia from Swift, the international financial transaction system. It would be like cutting off your banking from the rest of the world. There would also be economic and trade sanctions.