« Impasse », risk of war again “ higher “ : the intense diplomatic sequence of the last days between Westerners and Russians has not allowed any relaxation, even ending in new American accusations of preparations « d’invasion » of Ukraine by Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has massed nearly 100,000 men on the border with Ukraine, continues to demand from NATO a written commitment never to integrate this former Soviet republic into its ranks.
In front of the ” maximum pressure » Russia, the United States say they are ready to ” all scenarios », continuation of dialogue or economic and financial reprisals “ massive ».
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And to close the week, Ukraine was the target this Friday, January 14 of an unclaimed massive cyberattack which blocked part of its government websites.
“Irreconcilable” positions between Russians and Americans
After a diplomatic ballet worthy of the Cold War on Monday in Geneva, Wednesday in Brussels (NATO) and Thursday in Vienna (OSCE), the Russians do not consider it useful to continue the discussions and are waiting for written answers to their demands from next week.
Americans and Europeans refuse all their demands on NATO, which would de facto bring the Old Continent back to the geopolitical balances of 1997, just before the enlargement of the Alliance towards Eastern Europe.
American negotiators are proposing a ” process “ longer discussions focused on arms control and the limitation of military maneuvers, recurring sources of tension. Insufficient for the time being in the eyes of the Russians.
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” We are at an impasse. As things stand, the positions of the Russians and the Americans are irreconcilable., summarizes Melinda Haring, the deputy director of the American center Eurasia, in an analysis note.
In fine, « the decision whether or not to continue the talks will be taken by Vladimir Putin and no one at this stage knows” in which direction it will decide, adds Marie Dumoulin, an expert on the former USSR at the European Council for International Relations (ECFR).
“High risk of war”
At the end of this diplomatic week, the war is ” unfortunately more likely”, Advance Melinda Haring in Washington. Expect a ” new exacerbation of the crisis through force », adds Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
“The situation is totally volatile” and the ” high risk of war”, also warns François Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) in Paris.
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The Russian negotiator, Sergei Riabkov, nevertheless assured Monday in Geneva that Russia had no intention of ” attack Ukraine ». But a senior American official accused Moscow on Friday of having prepositioned » agents in Ukraine to carry out an operation that could serve as a ” pretext for an invasion.
The Kremlin called it ” free » these accusations, emphasizing that they were “not supported by no evidence”.
A Russian intervention could also take other forms than an outright invasion, notes Maxim Suchkov, director of the Institute of International Studies at MGIMO University in Moscow.
When Vladimir Putin waves the threat of a response military and technical », he can think for example of “ missile deployments in Donbass (eastern Ukraine) or in Crimea (south)”, he underlines in an analysis published on the site warontherocks.com.
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It could be ” territorial catches » limited to connect Donbass, controlled by pro-Russian separatists, to Crimea annexed in 2014 by Russia, adds François Heisbourg.
“Not the most likely scenario”
For Marie Dumoulin, the Russians maintain the ” maximum pressure to get more », most ” the scenario of military intervention is not the most likely” car son « cost, military, political, financial and human” would be considerable.
American counter-proposals on the non-deployment of missiles in Europe or the limitation of military exercises have also long been part of their demands.
“They know that in the event of a military intervention in Ukraine, they will have none of this except massive sanctions and a de facto rupture of all their relations with Western countries”, considers Marie Dumoulin.
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Vladimir Putin, for his part, denounces the ” containment policy » of his country – a historical Russian obsession – and for more than ten years has been calling for ” security guarantees » to Westerners.
According to Maxim Suchkov, the United States, now totally focused on the rivalry with China, could have ” interest in a stable and predictable relationship” with Russia and to a security architecture in Europe allowing them to focus on the Indo-Pacific”. This is the Kremlin’s whole bet, he believes.
A “minor role” for the EU
Whether at NATO or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), ” Europeans are at the manœwork to defend their interests., assures the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian.
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“We have received the assurance that nothing will be decided or negotiated without the Europeans and the coordination with the Americans is absolutely perfect”, adds the Spaniard Josep Borrell.
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But for Raluca Csernatoni, of the Carnegie Europe think tank, “ the European Union plays a minor role in the negotiations”, the United States preferring to discuss directly with a few countries such as France, Germany and Eastern European allies.
As for Ukraine, the discussion takes place very largely outside of his participation”, notes Marie Dumoulin.