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Foreign Policy

Russia’s development close to Ukraine is pissing Group Biden on

Russia rallies an unusual number of troops on the border with Ukraine, putting the Biden administration in front of an early test to restore ties with NATO allies and move away from former US President Donald Trump’s controversial stance on relations too Take off Moscow.

The build-up of forces on the Ukrainian border, as well as hundreds of ceasefire violations in the eastern territories of Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists, have alerted NATO and sparked a series of phone calls between senior members of the Biden government and their Ukrainians and Russian counterparts .

“They’re considering, they’re trying to see what we’re going to do, what NATO would do, what the Ukrainians would do,” said Jim Townsend, former Deputy Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO through 2017 is this an administration that will act decisively? You are doing all of these things to assess where the new administration is. “

President Joe Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday. This was the first conversation between the leaders of the two countries since Trump’s unfortunate phone call in July 2019 with Zelensky, which sparked his first impeachment investigation, according to a Ukrainian ad. “We stand shoulder to shoulder when it comes to preserving our democracies,” tweeted the Ukrainian head of state after the 50-minute conversation.

Envoys from the 30-member NATO alliance met Thursday to discuss the matter and expressed concern over Russia’s large-scale military exercises and the rise in ceasefire violations, a NATO official told Foreign Policy. “Russia’s destabilizing measures are undermining efforts to alleviate tensions,” the official said. “NATO continues to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation closely. “

On Friday, the Kremlin warned that any deployment of NATO forces in Ukraine would further exacerbate tensions and prompt Russia to take additional measures to protect itself.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine between the country’s armed forces and Russia-backed separatists has erupted regularly since the end of a 2015 peace deal that ended the worst of the fighting. Observers of the conflict say the current escalation is of a different magnitude than previous fears.

Videos shared by Russian social media users that are difficult to independently verify appear to show trains and convoys of military vehicles pouring towards the border with Ukraine and Crimea, the strategic Ukrainian peninsula on the Black Sea that Russia illegally annexed in 2014 has experts are still trying to clarify the Russian intentions behind the construction, which seemed to exceed Moscow’s normal pace for military exercises.

“[Russian President Vladimir Putin is] not so obvious when pulling the big train. Why does he let us see this? “said Townsend, the former Pentagon official.

Former US officials saw this as a clear effort by Moscow to test the new Biden administration, which after other escalations, including a massive hack against US government agencies that Washington has accused, is still analyzing political reviews for a new one Strategy towards Russia can be worked out by the Kremlin.

“This could be a troop maneuver just testing how we react, it could be military, or it could be parking people on the border,” a former senior Trump administration official told Foreign Policy. “You have to state publicly what the policy is. Further Russian incursions are not acceptable. “

The annexation of Crimea in 2014 also began with a major rapid military exercise along Russia’s western border with Ukraine, before masked men later poured into and overtook the Black Sea area.

Long-time observers of the conflict are skeptical that Russia is planning another invasion of Ukraine, but have not completely ruled out this possibility. “The thing about Vladimir Putin is that when we think about what he’s going to do, we try to believe that it’s going to be something rational,” said Kirill Mikhailov, a researcher with the Conflict Intelligence Team, which is tracking the Russian military engagement in Ukraine. “He may have a completely different view of the world as the information he receives is assumed to be highly curated.”

The Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer characterized this alternative worldview in comments to the BBC last month: “According to the understanding of the Russian military, the West is waging a hybrid war against Russia on many fronts: in Belarus, in Ukraine, in relation to Alexey Navalny ,” he said.

Robert Lee, expert on the Russian military and Ph.D. The candidate at King’s College London said the moves were most likely intended to deter Ukraine from future offensives in the region. “Russia shows that they retain the dominance of escalation,” he said.

Zelensky has taken a number of steps against Russian proxies in Ukraine that some observers said were included in Moscow’s calculation. In February, Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, a close ally of Putin, was sanctioned by Kiev and three television channels controlled by the magnate were closed.

“It’s not about Medvedchuk as an individual,” said Michael Carpenter, who served as US Deputy Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia during the Obama administration. “One of the main reasons the Kremlin permeates these protracted conflicts over time is precisely that they always have the option when their other levers of influence, whether they are oligarchs or corrupt politicians among neighboring countries, do not deliver the heat of the country To increase conflict in order to gain influence in this way. “

Former U.S. officials also pointed to Putin’s desire to pressurize Germany on several fronts, including the controversial construction of the Nord Stream 2 underwater natural gas pipeline that would bypass Ukraine and the Berlin-led trilateral contact group, which is dealing with ongoing ceasefire negotiations Eastern Ukraine is commissioned.

According to a source familiar with the preparations, the Ukrainian military went through its regular training cycles with high readiness through Friday. Most on-the-spot assessments suggest the Russians are adopting a strategic stance but not ignoring a sudden land grab, the source said. Ukraine could also advance heavy equipment in the west designed to stop a Russian advance, including US-made Javelin anti-tank missiles that can be quickly brought to the front lines under the rules approved last year.

“The problem with the Russians is that everything is a red line to them and they are raving about everything and if their position collapses they will step down,” said a former senior US defense official. “Ukrainians understand this better than anyone.”

The build-up is taking place amid a host of other Moscow escalation activities. “They really created a continental saber-rattle event,” said Ben Hodges, who until 2017 served as a general in the US Army Europe. Last Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video of three Russian submarines hitting through ice in The Arctic, a difficult maneuver that Hodges cited as evidence of his capabilities in a region facing increasing military competition.

On Monday, NATO reported an “unusual high” in Russian flights on the fringes of the alliance, with 10 flights intercepted by NATO aircraft within a six-hour window. These events, combined with the construction along the border with Ukraine, are “obviously no coincidence,” said Hodges.

Tensions come as West Russian relations have “bottomed out”, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Moscow remembered its ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, after Biden agreed in a recent interview to a remark that Putin was a “murderer”.

However, the Biden government intends to keep its diplomatic channel open for Moscow despite rising bilateral tensions. A State Department spokesman told foreign policy that there were “no plans” to recall US Ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, in Washington in response to Russia’s decision.

“We continue to strive to open communication channels with the Russian government, both to advance US interests and to reduce the risk of miscalculations between our countries,” the spokesman said.

Even as tensions have increased in recent days, former US officials said Kiev remains cautious about escalating conflicts, possibly removing the bait from Moscow, and allowing Russian-backed forces to further cement their gains in the east. Instead, Zelensky is likely to rely on the West, the person said.

“Ukrainians are better off with a stalemate than escalating and having their watch cleaned,” said the former senior US defense official. “[Their] The best game in Donbass is international pressure and Putin to see. Sinking a few tanks with spears will not do much, ”the official said, referring to the US-supplied anti-tank missiles from Ukraine.

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