Europe and the world wait with anxiety as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis reaches a critical point. The United States revealed last week to the public that it possessed intelligence suggesting that Putin could launch a false flag attack and an invasion this week. However, there has been a significant diplomatic push to avoid a conflict between Moscow and Kyiv, as Western diplomats rush to the Ukrainian capital to try and find a path towards de-escalation.
Today, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The German premier said that they would be “ready for very far-reaching and effective sanctions in coordination with our allies.” Kyiv has been very critical of Berlin’s decision not to sell them weapons as other Western countries have done. In the same meeting, Zelensky said to the press that his country would continue to pursue a path to becoming full members of NATO, a move that has been at the center of the ongoing tensions between Moscow and the West.
Zelensky also made a televised address to his fellow citizens on Monday, declaring February 16, the day suggested by American intelligence as a date for the Russian invasion, a “day of unity.” The president, a former comedian, also made an apparently sarcastic joke at the Western information over the imminence of a Russian attack, a claim that was misinterpreted by the Western media and prompted outlets to report that Ukraine was predicting an attack on Wednesday, a claim that was quickly corrected by Zelensky.
On the other side of the Atlantic, President Joe Biden called British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and talked about “ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military build-up on Ukraine’s border.” The British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, is scheduled to visit Kyiv later this week, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry said later on Monday that diplomatic options are “far from exhausted.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has kept a cautiously optimistic tone this Monday, saying to the media that despite intelligence showing Russia is capable of launching a massive military attack against Ukraine, there still is a “window of opportunity for de-escalation and diplomacy.”
On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Minister announced that the Kremlin was removing some troops from the Ukrainian border and Putin announced he decided to “partially pull back troops” in the clearest sign from Moscow of wanting to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis, however, there is still no confirmation of how many troops have been withdrawn from the border. Despite this apparent diplomatic overture, the Russian Parliament also approved today a resolution asking Putin to recognize the two breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine.
Russian troops continue to get closer to Ukraine as tensions rise
Although the diplomatic overtures between the West and Moscow are encouraging, the picture on the ground appears to be ominous. The United States evacuated its embassy from Kyiv to Lviv, a town in Western Ukraine, due to a “dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces.” Similarly, the Israeli government decided to evacuate the family members of its diplomatic staff in Ukraine and has warned all Israelis to leave Ukraine soon.
Additionally, it was reported on Monday (before today’s partial withdrawal) that Russia has mobilized an additional 14 battalions -with 800-1,000 soldiers each- to the Ukrainian border. Earlier, CBS reported, citing a U.S. official, that Russian units departed their original assembly points and began moving to attack positions near the Ukrainian border.
The Kremlin has deployed more than 130,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, and a Wall Street Journal article reports that the Russian army has also mobilized troops from its Far Eastern border with China, as some Western analysts estimate that Putin has massed almost 60% of its total ground power near Ukraine.
According to the article, the Russians have also mobilized part of their pacific, northern, and Baltic fleets near Ukraine, a move that has also been accompanied by the installation of numerous Iskander ballistic missiles, which can cover up to 95% of the Ukrainian landmass and could fire up to 400 projectiles in one hour.
Whether Russia launches an invasion of Ukraine remains a question that only Vladimir Putin can answer. What is clear, however, is that while Western officials try to make a last diplomatic push to avoid a potentially catastrophic war, the Russian army is massing an impressive military force near Ukraine, giving Putin the chance to launch an attack if he wants to.