Russian leader Vladimir Putin has secured some wins in his confrontation with the West over Ukraine, but it’s too early to discern an end to a crisis that could yet morph into a new Cold War even if conflict is averted, Kremlin watchers said.
The United States has rubbished Moscow’s assertion it was partially pulling back troops massed near Ukraine, saying that Russia was instead still building them up and remained positioned for an imminent invasion if it chose.
Moscow, which denies that, accuses the West of ignoring its key security demands, but top diplomat Sergei Lavrov told Putin on Monday to allow more time for diplomacy even as Putin said he did not want to be dragged into tortuous negotiations.
For Putin, the procession of foreign dignitaries flying in for talks, including France’s president, Germany’s chancellor and two British ministers is already a win, pushing Moscow’s security worries to the top of the world agenda.
“His biggest achievement is that he’s got the West’s attention,” said Andrey Kortunov, head of RIAC, a think-tank close to Russia’s foreign ministry. “At least they are now fully aware of Russia’s position and narrative… I think it’s a major accomplishment and let’s see what happens next and whether he can claim anything on top of that.”
The West has dismissed as outlandish many of Moscow’s security demands, which include a proposal for NATO to pull back its infrastructure to 1997 lines, to end the alliance’s expansion and to declare a veto on Ukraine joining.
But Washington has offered talks on some matters.
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that concrete ideas were on the table to “establish a security environment in Europe” involving new measures on arms control, transparency and strategic stability.
“Of course this is not exactly what Russia wanted, but I think realistically speaking this is what Russia could have expected to get,” Kortunov said.
To be sure, Russia’s build-up near Ukraine – which Biden estimated at more than 150,000 troops on Tuesday – has entailed reputational costs, galvanised NATO, and seen Ukraine receive a flood of military aid.
Russian stocks and the rouble have been battered as the West has threatened major sanctions.
Worried by Russian moves, NATO has also deployed additional troops to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and is drawing up plans for new combat units in central and southeastern Europe.
“As so often, their military intimidation has proven to be counterproductive and has only focused Western minds on the necessity to defend Europe against Russia. It has strengthened NATO unity,” said Keir Giles, an associate fellow at Chatham House.
Tensions surged again on Thursday after Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces traded accusations of firing shells across the ceasefire line in eastern Ukraine. Britain accused Russia of attempting to fabricate a pretext to invade.
This week is seen as a decisive moment that could take the crisis into a new phase.
Huge military exercises in Belarus, to Ukraine’s north, are due to end on Sunday. Moscow continued to announce troop withdrawals from annexed Crimea on Thursday and the Kremlin rebuffed the West’s scepticism, saying the process took time.
“If we actually see the beginning of a troop withdrawal, then we’ll be able to say this phase of the crisis is over. It’s too early to relax,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta think-tank.—ReutersTom Balmforth, "Putin makes inroads in pressure campaign against West, Ukraine," Business recorder. 2022-02-18.
Keywords: Political sciences , Cold war , Foreign ministry , World agenda , Ukraine , NATO , United States