‘NATO and EU irrelevant – Only Biden and Putin can prevent war

Russia: Civil activist warns of ‘propaganda against Ukraine’

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With Russia having already sent approximately 100,000 troops to the border of Ukraine, and reports that Moscow might be planning an incursion as soon as next month, fears of war are emerging. A recent virtual meeting between President Biden and President Putin failed to completely stem the crisis, with Russia stating that the situation is being fuelled by Western support for Ukraine on Russia’s doorstep.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Professor of Russian and European Politics from the University of Kent Richard Sakwa suggested western allies are adding fuel to the fire.

Asked what the core reasons for the current tension in Ukraine related to, Professor Sakwa said: “The recent escalation is all about diplomacy.

“Moscow feels that its security concerns have been ignored, basically since 1991 (a feeling shared by Yeltsin), and now feels that a critical juncture has arrived.”

He added: “With the irresponsible and dangerous arming of Ukraine etc – and the trends running against Moscow – parties need to act now to finally get some sort of new security arrangement in place – hence the two documents released last week.”

The documents, published last Friday, also call for a ban on sending US and Russian warships and aircraft to areas from where they can attack each other’s territory as well as a halt to NATO military drills near Russia’s borders.

The proposals were submitted to the United States and its allies earlier this week and contain elements – such as an effective Russian veto on future NATO membership for Ukraine – that the West has already ruled out.

Speaking of what may happen if a conflict did arise, and Russia for example did choose to take military actions, the Professor said: “A full-scale invasion very unlikely, unless actions started by Ukraine which is also unlikely.”

The expert added: “Moscow wants to get back to the sort of arrangements that operated in the late Cold War period.”

Speaking of the wider complications, he added: “If there is an invasion, the punitive sanctions such as SWIFT, embargoes, gas cut-off etc will be severe, but will be damaging globally; and note that any action will be taken in conjunction with the Chinese.”

The Professor ended by saying the West need to rethink their actions by saying: “Both states argue that it is time for the irresponsible and dangerous West to wake up to the changing security needs of these states, in conditions of a quasi-military alliance.”

With Ukraine keen on joining NATO, to the point where President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy implored the alliance to accelerate its application procedure in order to join sooner, questions remain on whether Ukraine will actually join, as well as the role of other non-state actors, such as the EU.

Speaking of the idea, Professor Sakwa said: “I think most experts accept that NATO membership for Ukraine is not on the cards any time soon – but some sort of bilateral deal with the US would be just as destabilising.”

He added: “I think the US now understands this, hence the recent flurry of diplomatic activity.”

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Suggesting the only way to resolve the crisis is between Washington and Moscow, the expert said: “Ultimately NATO and the EU are irrelevant – it’s the US that decides, although will have to get its allies – and Congress – on board.”

He added: “It’s possible – the alternative could well be war. The situation is akin to the Cuban missile crisis – where each side found the face-saving formula to step back from the brink. Talk of appeasement – then and now – is suicidal.”

Russia has also escalated its diplomatic rhetoric on the situation.

For the past several years, people around Vladimir Putin have joked with respect to foreign powers, “if they cannot deal with Sergei Lavrov then they will have to deal with Sergey Shoigu,” (referring to the Russian defence minister).

Yet, Russia has added a buffer between the two, in the form of the more open and frank diplomat Sergei Ryabkov.

As relations with the United States and the EU have heated up in recent weeks over the buildup of Russian forces at the border with Ukraine, Mr Ryabkov has been speaking to the press and has done so in an undiplomatic, in-your-face fashion.

When one reporter asked him a week ago about how some of Russia’s “partners in the West” would react to something, he snapped back: “We have no partners in the West, only enemies. I stopped using the word “partner” some time ago.”

Western powers still hope that diplomatic efforts will divert a disaster.

If they are wrong, Ukrainians hope the prospect of a bloody and prolonged war could yet be enough to make Russia’s president think twice.

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