Russia and the United States are now closer to talks over Ukraine as Moscow amasses troops in Eastern Europe. The two sides have agreed to hold a phone call later today, however there is no word on whether or not it will be constructive. Experts say this could lead to further tension between Washington and Moscow that may ultimately result in military action.
Though American officials cautioned that Moscow is continuing to build up its troops in preparation for future military action against its neighbor, the US and Russia moved closer to holding talks over tensions surrounding Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that representatives from the United States and Russia will meet in Geneva in January. The US has suggested discussions as well, and the two countries are still working out disagreements over how to format the talks and which channels to utilize, according to US officials.
To prevent a Russian strike, the United States has warned punitive measures, including heavy economic sanctions and bolstering the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s capabilities on the territory of its Eastern European members. Officials in the Biden administration, meanwhile, have said that they are willing to have discussions to de-escalate tensions.
At the same time, US authorities announced that the number of Russian battalion tactical units near the Ukrainian border has increased to 53, up from an estimated 50 in previous weeks, and that the soldier buildup is still underway. Each group consists of around 800 soldiers.
Intelligence experts now regard a Russian involvement as more plausible than they did three weeks ago, according to a US official. “That’s how we’re thinking,” the official stated.
In the Donetsk area, a Ukrainian service member.
GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS/
Another US intelligence source said of Russian forces at Ukraine’s border, “They’re absolutely on the move.”
Mr. Putin’s force buildup and mention of discussions have observers in the United States wondering whether Moscow is attempting to squeeze President Biden into making concessions or planning military action in the event that its demands are not satisfied. Calls for Russia to de-escalate from the Biden administration have gone unheeded.
During his June summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, President Biden aimed to establish the framework for what he termed a “stable and predictable partnership.”
In November, Russia started sending extra military closer to Ukraine, delaying the plan. The Kremlin requested earlier this month that NATO retract its previous claims that Ukraine and Georgia might one day join the alliance, and that military connections with those former Soviet republics and other former Soviet Union territories be severed.
Mr. Biden has rejected such proposals, which U.S. officials fear would amount to a Russian sphere of influence on the country’s outskirts, while promising to discuss both sides’ security concerns.
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A senior administration official expressed optimism that discussions may begin in early January during a news conference on Thursday. He reaffirmed that a Russian strike would result in harsh economic penalties, more military equipment for Ukraine, and a strengthened military posture on NATO’s eastern border.
“If Russia proceeds with what seems to be in the works, we and our partners are prepared to impose substantial costs that would harm Russia’s economy and bring about precisely what it claims it does not want: more NATO capabilities, not less, closer to Russia, not farther away,” the source added.
Russia has shown no evidence of being intimidated by the warnings so far. The Russian president stated that Russia’s actions will be determined by “the path of the discussions” and “the absolute supply of Russia’s security, now and in the future,” during his annual news conference in Moscow on Thursday.
“Any further NATO eastward march is unacceptable,” Mr. Putin said at the almost four-hour news conference. “They’ve arrived at our front door. Is this an unreasonable demand—no more offensive weapons systems in close proximity to our home? Is there anything out of the ordinary about this?”
The bellicose tone of Mr. Putin’s and certain Russian officials’ recent pronouncements has prompted some experts to believe that the prospect of sanctions hasn’t worked as a deterrent, and that Moscow is preparing its public for a potential military invasion.
“”Economic sanctions will not dissuade Russia.””
— Jeffrey Edmonds, a key Russia advisor in President Barack Obama’s administration at the time of Russia’s annexation of Crimea
In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine, annexing Crimea and fomenting a separatist movement in Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern territory. According to the Congressional Research Service, the US has imposed sanctions relating to Ukraine on around 735 people since then, including about 75 designations for activity outside of Ukraine. All of them “have scarcely made an impact,” according to a former Obama administration official who worked on Russia policy.
“Economic sanctions would not dissuade Russia,” said Jeffrey Edmonds, a senior Russia advisor in the Obama administration at the time of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “From their view, no amount of monetary penalty can compensate for the US military’s existential dilemma on their borders.”
Russia has gathered soldiers near Ukraine, estimated to number approximately 100,000 by US authorities, with the battalion tactical units serving as front-line forces.
Officials in the Biden administration believe their sanctions would be significantly stronger than previous ones, and they’ve tried to send that message to Moscow. Mr. Biden said he informed Mr. Putin that the penalties his administration is planning are “unlike anything he’s ever seen.” However, US authorities have not said publicly which measures have been coordinated with partners.
Setting a date and location for the discussions has also been difficult. Initially, the Russian side suggested direct discussions with the US.
The US, on the other hand, has tried to avoid giving the idea that talks on what may amount to a new division of Europe into areas of influence would take place without the participation of American friends. The administration has proposed that the talks take place through three existing channels: bilateral negotiations in Geneva, parallel discussions in the NATO-Russia Council, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an intergovernmental organization that oversees issues such as arms control, human rights, and fair elections.
This article was co-written by Warren P. Strobel.
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