Ukraine’s Buffer Zone Illusion: The Russia-West’s ‘War of Words’ Escalates

Written by | Thursday, January 6th, 2022

It is “very likely” that Russia will invade Ukraine and it can only be stopped by “enormous sanctions”, Adam Schiff, the chair of the US House intelligence committee said on Sunday (2 January). “I think that it would require enormous sanctions on Russia to deter what appears to be a very likely Russian invasion of Ukraine again,” Schiff said. “And I think our allies need to be solidly on board with it. Russia needs to understand we are united in this.” This comes as a NATO official confirmed (4 January) that Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has scheduled a special meeting with allied ambassadors and Russian diplomats on 12 January in Brussels. The meeting will take place amid tensions over Russia’s military build-up around Ukraine. NATO foreign ministers are expected to meet via videoconference later this week to prepare for the meeting.
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell visited Ukraine’s frontline on Tuesday (4 January) and held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in a show of support for Kyiv, as the West warns Russia against launching any attacks on its ex-Soviet neighbor. The visit comes after months of tensions, with the West threatening Moscow with a massive coordinated sanctions response if it invades Ukraine. “With Russia’s increased military build-up, I am here to show EU support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Borrell said. Brussels fears it is being sidelined as the US and Russia discuss the balance of power in Europe, with Borrell insisting that “any discussion about European security must happen in coordination with and participation of EU”. The United States and its allies have accused Russia of planning an invasion after massing some 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border. The Kremlin said it wanted a legally binding guarantee that the NATO military alliance would give up any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine, part of a list of demands it wants to negotiate with the West.
In a separate but related development, pre-Christmas statements from the Kremlin, including an ultimatum that NATO should commit itself not to expand eastwards. have challenged the dogmas of Finland’s foreign and security policy and have electrified the debate on possible NATO membership. Kremlin spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, reiterated the ultimatum by saying that the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden would have “grave political and military consequences”. In his traditional New Year’s address, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö made it clear that his country’s room for maneuver and freedom of choice remains intact, adding that those “include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide” and that there is no room for “spheres of interest” in this day and age. More recently, statements from within the Green party in Finland, a member of the ruling coalition, suggest that Finnish NATO membership could be on the cards in as little as five years. The apparent change in tune marks a shift in the position adopted by the party in 2018, that Finland has no imminent reason to apply for NATO membership.

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