Concentration of more than 20,000 Russian soldiers on the border with Ukraine and announcement of imminent land maneuvers; incursion of two American warships in the Bosphorus, preceded by reconnaissance missions in the Black Sea by B-1 bombers; alert of the Ukrainian Army for fear of an offensive overflowing the autonomous territories of Donetsk and Lugansk. These are all the latest tactical moves in which Vladimir Putin’s Russia wants to feel out and test the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden.
It is unlikely, however, that the obvious escalation of tension will go beyond the red lines that both Moscow and Washington want to set so that one and the other clearly know the adversary’s position on the demarcation lines in Eastern Europe.
Let us first look at what may lie behind Russia’s maneuvers. First of all, to launch a very serious warning to Ukraine that its alleged yearnings to join the EU, and above all NATO, will not be tolerated by Moscow, which could naturally revitalize at its convenience the eastern battlefront by graduating the intensity of its shelling on Ukrainian troops and positions, and even invading territories near Donetsk and Lugansk. Putin’s final message to Kiev is to forget about recovering those regions and the annexed Crimean peninsula. The latter guarantees Russia its presence -and naval dominance- in the Black Sea, and that is non-negotiable, even if it means risking a major confrontation.
For the Ukrainians and Americans to be in no doubt, the Russian president intends, with the latest movements of his troops, to fix definitively the regiments he has placed on his side of the border since he encouraged the uprising in the eastern regions of Ukraine. His justification for this remains the same: to protect the population of these territories of mainly Russian origin, language and culture. In doing so, he is also giving new impetus to both autonomous republics, which are only recognized and supported by Russia. And it sends them an unequivocal message of support and readiness to protect them with the full weight of arms if necessary.
And how far is the American president willing to go in his support for Ukraine? That is exactly what Putin wants to test, especially after Kiev’s renewed proclamations of its willingness to join NATO to defend itself against Russian threats. And, above all, whether Biden would back a presumed counter-offensive by Kiev to regain lost territories.
Accept the status quo or change it?
It is thus a litmus test for Joe Biden, who, although he has already departed from his predecessor’s line on the most pressing issues – pandemic and climate change, essentially – will have to gauge the extent of his behavioral modifications in the many hot spots of the globalized world.
Turkey has already notified its acquiescence to the passage of US warships into the Black Sea, where they will remain for the next three weeks. It is assumed that both this naval presence and the intensification of reconnaissance flights by its bombers are in turn intended to show Russia its teeth and warn it that further incursions beyond its borders will not be tolerated.
The truth is that, at the present time, Ukraine is absolutely handcuffed, so that what would really and radically change its destiny – its membership in the EU and NATO – is the red line that Moscow is not prepared to tolerate. Such is the crux of the problem.
Would the current EU-27 support a rapprochement of Kiev with a view to its membership in the medium term? The answer is more than obvious: no. An answer seasoned, of course, with all kinds of excuses and equidistances. And the fact is that the EU, at least as far as Russia is concerned, lacks a defined overall policy, beyond the well-known sanctions, which on the other hand serve Moscow to justify the search for other ties and alliances, for example with China, to counterbalance its adversaries.
© This is a translation of the article originally published in Atalayar / All rights reserved