EXPLAINER: What is behind the Russian-Ukrainian tensions?
MOSCOW (AP) – Ukrainian and Western officials fear that a Russian military build-up near Ukraine signals Moscow’s plans to invade its former Soviet neighbor.
The Kremlin insists it has no such intention and has accused Ukraine and its Western backers of pretending to cover up their own supposedly aggressive designs.
It is not known whether the concentration of Russian troops heralds an imminent attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for Western guarantees preventing NATO expansion in Ukraine, and this build-up may reflect an attempt to support the message.
Here is an overview of the current tensions:
WHAT ARE THE ROOTS OF THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE ACCUMULATION?
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 after the country’s president, friend of Moscow, was ousted from power by mass protests. Weeks later, Russia backed a separatist insurgency that broke out in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine and the West accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the rebels. Moscow denied this, accusing the Russians who joined the separatists of being volunteers.
More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting that devastated Ukraine’s eastern industrial center known as Donbas.
A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles, but efforts to reach a political settlement failed and sporadic skirmishes continued along the line. tense contact.
Earlier this year, an increase in ceasefire violations in the east and a concentration of Russian troops near Ukraine fueled fears of war, but tensions eased when Moscow withdrew the bulk of the war. his forces after maneuvers in April.
THE LAST RUSSIAN MILITARY REINFORCEMENT
U.S. intelligence officials determined last week that Russia plans to deploy around 175,000 troops and that nearly half of them are already stationed along various points near the Ukrainian border in preparation for a possible invasion. which could start as early as the beginning of 2022.
Ukraine has complained that Moscow has kept more than 90,000 troops near the border of the two countries following massive war games in western Russia in the fall.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said units of the Russian 41st Army remained near Yelnya, a town about 260 kilometers (160 miles) north of the Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers on Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia annexed Crimea was estimated at 94,300, warning that a “large-scale escalation” was possible in January.
In addition, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that Russia has around 2,100 military personnel in rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine, and Russian officers hold all command positions in the separatist forces. Moscow has repeatedly denied the presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has not provided any details on the number and location of its troops, saying their deployment in its own territory should not concern anyone.
WHAT DOES MOSCOW WANT?
The Kremlin accused Ukraine of failing to respect the 2015 peace agreement and criticized the West for failing to encourage Ukrainian respect. The deal was a diplomatic coup for Moscow, forcing Ukraine to grant broad autonomy to rebel regions and offer a sweeping amnesty to the rebels.
Ukraine, in turn, highlighted ceasefire violations by Russia-backed separatists and insisted that there is a continued presence of Russian troops in the rebel east despite the denials of the Russian Federation. Kremlin.
Amid recriminations, Russia rejected a four-way meeting with Ukraine, France and Germany, saying it was unnecessary given Ukraine’s refusal to honor the 2015 deal.
Moscow has sharply criticized the United States and its NATO allies for supplying Ukraine with weapons and organizing joint exercises, saying this encourages Ukrainian hawks to attempt to regain rebel-held areas by force. .
Earlier this year, Putin worryingly said that a Ukraine military attempt to reclaim the East would “have serious consequences for the Ukrainian state.”
Putin strongly emphasized that Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO represent a red line for Moscow, and also expressed concern over plans by some NATO members to establish military training centers in Ukraine. He said it would give them a military base there even without Ukraine joining NATO.
Last week, Putin stressed that Russia would seek “reliable and long-term security guarantees” from the United States and its allies “that would preclude any further NATO movement east and deployment of systems. weapons which threaten us in the immediate vicinity of Russian territory ”.
He accused “the threats to climb on our western border”, NATO bringing its military infrastructure closer to Russia and proposed to the West to start substantive talks on the issue, adding that Moscow would need not only to ‘verbal assurances, but “legal guarantees.”
Putin’s foreign adviser Yuri Ushakov said the Russian leader would push for such guarantees during a video call with US President Joe Biden scheduled for Tuesday, but many former US and NATO diplomats have said said such a Russian request to Biden would be doomed to failure. Biden himself said on Friday that he “doesn’t accept anyone’s red line.”
IS THE THREAT OF A RUSSIAN INVASION REAL?
Russia has dismissed the mention of an invasion plot as a Western smear campaign and accused the allegations of covering up Ukraine’s intention to attack in the east. Ukraine denies such plans.
Some observers interpret the troop build-up as Putin’s demonstration that Russia is ready to raise the stakes to convince NATO to respect Moscow’s red lines and to stop sending troops and weapons to Ukraine.
Last month, Putin noted with satisfaction that Moscow’s warnings are finally gaining weight and causing “some stress” in the West. He added: “It is necessary to keep them in this state for as long as possible so that it does not occur to them to stage a conflict on our western borders that we do not need. “
US officials acknowledged that Moscow’s intentions are unclear, but pointed to Russia’s past behavior as a cause for concern.
Biden on Friday pledged to make Putin’s attack on Ukraine “very, very difficult”, saying a series of new initiatives from his administration are aimed at deterring Russian aggression.
Dasha Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.
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