Russia may “up the ante” over Ukraine

Russia is preparing to offer what Vladimir Putin apparently sees as a “compromise” over the situation on his nation’s border with Ukraine. Moscow is offering a new security treaty with the United States and a simultaneous proposal of a security agreement with NATO. The fact that these are attempts at diplomacy through talking rather than shooting could be seen as a promising sign, but in reality, the Kremlin isn’t backing down from any of its previous demands and is threatening more severe actions if we continue to “take provocative actions” and “ignore” Putin’s demands. If anything, according to Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, he’s expanding the scope of the demands, talking about relations between NATO and not just Ukraine, but all of the former Soviet states along Russia’s southern and western borders. (Associated Press)

Russia may take unspecified new measures to ensure its security if the U.S. and its allies continue to take provocative action and ignore Moscow’s demand for guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine, a senior diplomat said Saturday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused Western allies of continuously pushing the envelope in relations with Russia, and warned that Moscow could also up the ante if the West doesn’t treat its demands seriously.

Ryabkov’s statement in an interview with the Interfax news agency came a day after Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe — bold ultimatums that are almost certain to be rejected by the U.S. and its allies.

It would appear that Joe Biden’s efforts at resolving the situation during his latest conference call with Putin haven’t produced much in the way of progress. That much seemed clear when Moscow came out shortly after the call and essentially shrugged off the threats of additional sanctions, saying they would have no effect on Russian policy. Putin isn’t specifying what additional “measures” could be on the table, but it certainly sounds as if the military option is very much in play.

So at this point, we have the G7 warning Russia of “massive consequences” if he invades Ukraine and Russia threatening to “extend the limits of what is possible” in response. All of these threats are still vague, but unless some sort of breakthrough is made, both sides are sounding increasingly like we could be talking about a new war in eastern Europe.

What the Russians are looking for are documented assurances that NATO will not offer membership to Ukraine, Belarus, or any of the other former Soviet states in eastern Europe. Not all of them seem interested in joining, but the current government of Ukraine definitely is. The fact that the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy barely controls half of its own country at the moment complicates matters further.

I haven’t heard from any foreign policy experts who seriously think that either the United States or NATO will go along with Russia’s demands, but this also isn’t a situation where some other carrots could be offered to keep the Russians calm and lower the temperature. Either NATO is expanding or it isn’t, and Putin clearly plans to stand in the way of such a development. It seems unlikely in the extreme that he would formally declare war on any NATO nations, but we can’t rule out the possibility that he would roll out some troops and military hardware across his borders and conduct “emergency security measures” that would look an awful lot like a war.

In reality, Putin may simply feel as if he doesn’t have much to worry about if he acts militarily. When Russia captured the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, nobody lifted a finger to try to force them back out. Putin clearly doesn’t feel very worried over any threats from Joe Biden, since we’ve only talked about “more sanctions” since all of this began. While I hope it can be avoided, we may be looking at a situation that will escalate into volatile military action and it might not be all that far off.

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