London, 22 Jan. 2022 – It’s when the US embassy in Kyiv asks to evacuate all non-essential staff fearing Russian invasion that you understand Ukrainian crisis is on the brink of breakdown while frantic multilateral diplomacy tries to find de-escalate tensions.
Yesterday Russia, in order to withdraw its military presence in the region made US two requests: deny Ukraine to join NATO and to stop its military presence at borders of former Soviet eastern European countries. Icy mood at the conference Blinken-Lavrov in Geneva.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said would examine counterpart requests, but soon after the step forward towards the unknown: the US embassy in Ukraine asked evacuation of all non-essential staff fearing Russian tanks enter the country (CNN report). Evacuation of personnel and their families will start on Monday, meanwhile US sent 90 tonnes ‘lethal aid’ for “front-line defenders” (BBC report)
This time Putin is not using the old alibi of Russian roots, ancient linguistic and cultural ties as it was for Crimea, and Donetsk regions, already ‘defected’ to Russia, though not internationally recognized as independent or part of the Federation. But those still are dangerous precedents.
Now the Kremlin justifies the building up of unprecedented military presence along eastern Ukraine borders (at least 100.000 tanks and troupes), with the pre-emptive defence to face an alleged NATO eastern expansion, right in those areas of Russian ‘political’ influence.
Today the pandemic, the consequent economic downturn, the risks from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South China sea tensions, weakened Europe and the West. And Putin decided to take advantage of this downturn or, as the chair of the British House of Commons Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood put it “We [Europe] are looking risk-adverse and somewhat timid… I suspect an invasion is now imminent,” he told the BBC.
European continent is highly reliant upon Russian gas: the US sent last December ships and cargoes of liquid methane (of which is the world largest exporter) to EU countries facing shortage and skyrocketing energy prices.
While US won’t wait further military threats from Putin in the area and the EU maintains a multilateral diplomatic approach, Germany, the largest buyer of Russian natural gas and strong supporter of the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline which will bring Russian gas directly to the central European country, went instead cautious on contrasting Moscow: chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach during a meeting in New Delhi (video posted o Twitter}: “Does Russia really wants a small tiny strip of Ukraine soil? Or integrate in the country, no this is nonsense…Putin is probably putting pressure, because he knows he can do it and it splits the EU…but what he really wants is respect… We, India, Germany need Russia against China”.
The German vice admiral resigned over the statement later following a turmoil still making headlines: Schönbach said his words were ‘thoughtless’ and German government said his words did not represent the country’s position on Ukrainian crisis: “The content and choice of words of the statements in no way correspond to the position of the Federal Ministry of Defense” a German Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz said anyway Berlin’s policy of not sending weapons to conflict zones will remain in place (Reuters report).
Meanwhile western diplomacy is going on next week with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to meet British Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on Ukraine border.
Next Tuesday 25 January, political advisers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany will hold talks over the crisis in Paris, Reuters report.
EU diplomacy chief Joseph Borrell hold last Wednesday a ‘quadrilateral call’ with Blinken, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the OSCE Chair in Office and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Zbigniew Rau.
After a call with Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, Blinken said “We remain committed to diplomacy, but are ready, in coordination with NATO allies and partners, to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression”.
The UN instead is skeptical over an actual Russian invasion of Ukraine. “I do not think Russia will invade Ukraine – Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Associated Press – and I hope that my belief is correct I think we don’t need to have a dramatic situation in that region that would have, of course, terrible consequences. I strongly hope that de-escalation and dialogue will help find a solution in that kind of confrontation that would have terrible consequences”.