Ukraine Crisis: ‘Russian Game’ Aims at ‘Changing Entire European Security Order’

Written by | Sunday, February 13th, 2022

Hopes rose Wednesday (9 February) that efforts to stop Russia from invading Ukraine may be starting to pay off, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz joining Kyiv and Moscow in a chorus of “positive” voices assessing that diplomatic bids to defuse the crisis could work. Diplomatic moves to ease tensions over Ukraine further intensified on Thursday (10 February) — but so too did military maneuvers on both sides amid the worst stand-off between Russia and the West since the Cold War. Diplomatic action has kicked into high gear, taking French President Emmanuel Macron to Moscow and Kyiv earlier this week. After separate talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Macron said he glimpsed a way forward towards easing tensions also after the Russian leader told him that Moscow “would not be the source of an escalation”.
While the West accuses Russia of having massed 100,000 soldiers near Ukraine’s borders, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “diplomacy is continuing to lower tensions”. But Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar said the Russian forces on the frontier did not appear to be ready to launch an all-out assault, and were instead being used primarily “for political pressure and blackmail” at this stage. Scholz, who had come under fire at home over his dithering response to the Ukraine crisis, said on Wednesday that “the task is that we ensure the security in Europe, and I believe that that will be achieved.” The German leader assured Germany’s NATO partners in the Baltic region of support during a meeting in Berlin on Thursday with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. “We are united and determined,” Scholz said, noting that the region was directly affected by Russian military activity. Scholz will follow in Macron’s footsteps and travel to Kyiv and Moscow next week, where he will have his first face-to-face meeting with Putin.
Britain has also intensified action, with the UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss having openly clashed with her Russian counterpart in an encounter in Moscow that gave little sign of a thawing in relations between their two countries — or of progress on the Ukrainian issue. “I can’t see any other reason for having 100,000 troops stationed on the Ukrainian border apart from to threaten Ukraine. And if Russia is serious about diplomacy, they need to move those troops and desist from the threats,” Truss told a joint news conference following talks with her Russian counterpart, after Lavrov had briskly walked out, leaving Truss to face the press alone. Meanwhile, leaders from the Baltic states have increased their calls for a bolstered NATO troop presence on the alliance’s eastern flank. During their meeting with Scholz on Thursday, the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian leaders have also encouraged Germany to play an increased role in security arrangements in the Baltic region due to Moscow’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders.
“I think it’s very important to strengthen NATO’s presence along the eastern flank — that is from the Baltic down to the Black Sea,” Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said. This realist view was also echoed by co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations Carl Bildt who cautioned against Scholz’s optimism for a diplomatic solution in Ukraine, saying that “one should be hopeful, but one should also be realistic.” According to the former Swedish prime minister, ”It’s good that Berlin and Paris [are] now accelerating efforts on Donbas, but we should understand that the Russian game at the moment is much bigger.” However, Bildt also warned the “Russian game” was about Ukraine as a whole, and about “changing the entire European security order.”

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