The risk of a new conflict in Ukraine is real.
This was the warning from Jens Stoltenberg, the head of the NATO alliance, who is bracing for the possibility of a new Russian invasion of the vast Eastern European State.
Around 100,000 Russian troops – combat-ready and equipped with artillery, medical supplies and jamming devices to disrupt enemy communications – remain near the Ukrainian border despite weeks of increasingly loud calls from Western capitals to de-escalation.
Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made seemingly impossible demands of his Democratic rivals to reduce their military footprint in Eastern and Central Europe and give a guarantee not to allow Ukraine to join the club. NATO.
Ukraine’s growing reserve army “gears up” amid fears of Russian attack
This makes this crisis not only the future of Ukraine, but also the security of the whole of Europe and of the democratic world at large.
No one seems to believe that the rare talks this week between Russia and the United States, and then between Moscow and the 30 NATO allies, will immediately defuse the crisis.
But a key indicator of whether the stalemate is exploding into a larger war or can still be pulled out of the chasm will be whether the Kremlin is genuinely seeking dialogue or whether it is simply moving through movements.
A fear among Western diplomats is that President Putin will hear the talks fail to create a pretext for war, eight years after his annexation of Crimea and support for an insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
If this is the case, then Ukrainian officials believe that further military action against them is almost inevitable, because retreating without showing anything would make him appear weak.
A source said he expected any Russian attack to be intense but limited – with the Kremlin seeking further gains before agreeing to negotiate a ceasefire.
Trying to figure out his calculations, a Western military expert also pointed to President Putin’s age – at 69, he won’t be in power forever – and the fact that he faces an unusually weak West.
The US administration is still bruised over a disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, Germany has a new untested government, France is preparing for the presidential elections, and everyone is simultaneously facing the COVID pandemic.
This combination of factors could motivate the Russian president to take more risks with Ukraine as he reflects on his legacy, the military expert said.
The United States and other NATO allies have said they will not send troops to support Ukraine in the event of a new invasion because it is not a member state.
But they are making plans to increase the number of troops deployed to the alliance’s eastern flank to bolster its defenses – a move that would likely be viewed by Russia as aggressive.
Such reinforcements could also increase the risk of error or miscalculation on either side, bringing NATO and Russia closer to a direct confrontation.
Unpredictability and high stakes are the reason why this crisis is of such concern to Western leaders.
This is also why Ukrainian ministers have warned that a new conflict in their country could be the spark that unleashes World War III.