Last week, German officials accused Russia of provoking conflict with Ukraine following a large movement of Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Russia has mobilized tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s eastern border and in the annexed region of Crimea. N.A.T.O. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg noted that it was “the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.” Russia’s increasing presence along Ukraine’s border has caused concern among many N.A.T.O. members. Germany, in particular, has been vocal in the alliance’s calls for Russia to reduce its military presence at the border.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu tried to justify the troop movement as a response to “threats” from N.A.T.O. Shoigu stated that the troops would be at the border for another two weeks and as a part of their training, they would be running drills and testing combat readiness.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer both denounced Russia’s actions. “My impression is that the Russian side is trying everything to provoke a reaction,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told ARD public television. “Together with Ukraine, we won’t be drawn into this game.”
After a conversation with President Joe Biden regarding the Russian troops at Ukraine’s border, Chancellor Merkel’s spokesman, Steffan Seibert, announced that both leaders agreed that, in order to avoid conflict, Russia must reduce the number of troops at the border. As tensions have risen between Ukraine and Russia, President Vladimir Putin continues to claim that Ukraine is instigating the conflict.
For the last seven years, Ukrainian military forces and Russian-backed separatists have been engaged in violent conflict, despite the signing of the 2014 Minsk Protocol. The protocol, which was signed by Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, established a ceasefire in the Donbas region of Ukraine. While Russian officials have denied involvement in the Donbas conflict, Al Jazeera notes that the separatists are likely “led, funded, and aided by Russia.” There have been over 14,000 casualties since the conflict began in 2014. Recently, violent clashes in the Donbas region have been increasing and in the last week, it was reported that five Ukrainian soldiers died in combat. If the fighting between Ukrainian troops and the separatists continues, Deputy Head of Russia’s presidential administration Dmitry Kozak stated that Russia would need to get involved to protect its citizens. If any major military hostilities took place, it would be “the beginning of the end of Ukraine,” Kozak said.
Russia’s troop movement to Ukraine’s border is eerily similar to its actions leading up to the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Al Jazeera explains that in March of 2014, after Russia moved troops into Crimea, Putin announced that Russia was intervening to protect its citizens in Ukraine. In her conversation with ARD public television, Kramp-Karrenbauer said she believes that Russia is “just waiting for a move, so to speak, from N.A.T.O., to have a pretext to continue its actions.”
While N.A.T.O. members have voiced their concerns for Ukraine, Ukraine is an ally and not a member of the alliance. Seeing N.A.T.O. membership as its best defense against Russian aggression, Ukraine has requested fast-tracked admittance to the alliance. However, before it will even be considered for membership, Ukraine needs to implement major domestic reforms and improve its defense capabilities. Andriy Melnyk, a Ukrainian diplomat, stated that if Ukraine were not admitted as a NATO member, it would have to consider acquiring nuclear weapons. “We have only one option,” Melnyk told German radio station Deutschlandfunk, “which is to arm ourselves.”
As tensions rise at the Ukrainian border and Russia remains unwilling to de-escalate the situation, a war between the two nations seems inevitable. This would be devastating for the Donbas region, where the conflict has already led to over 3,000 civilian casualties. To prevent a catastrophic conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Russia must decrease the number of troops on its Ukrainian border.
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