Western countries are cutting diplomatic staff in Ukraine, NATO has announced an increase in its military presence in Eastern Europe. RBC analyzed
What does the departure of diplomats say about
On Monday, January 24, the US State Department announced the start of the departure of American civil servants and their families working and living in Ukraine. The statement from the US Foreign Office explains that officials are not required to leave and can do so of their own free will, but their family members must definitely leave the territory of Ukraine.
The decision to authorize the departure of the diplomatic mission was taken out of precaution “in connection with Russia's ongoing efforts to destabilize the country and undermine the security of Ukrainian citizens and others visiting or residing in Ukraine,” the statement said. Washington has consulted with the Ukrainian government about this move and is coordinating with allied and partner embassies in Kiev.
The State Department also recommended that Americans not travel to Ukraine, but those on its territory— follow the information. However, there was no call to leave the country immediately. This is a fundamental difference from last year's situation in Afghanistan— then in August, in anticipation of the withdrawal of US troops, the State Department first called on all US citizens to immediately leave Afghanistan on commercial flights, and then organized repatriation aircraft.
Now Australia, Great Britain and Germany have followed the example of the USA. The British Foreign Office said in a statement that some embassy staff and their families are temporarily recalled. The Embassy in Kiev remains open and will continue to operate, including providing consular assistance and support to British citizens, the Foreign Office said in a statement.
The EU Foreign Policy Service said it did not plan to issue orders for the departure of staff from Ukrainian capital. “We are not going to do the same as the US, because we do not see any specific reasons for this,” — EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called the US decision hasty.
The evacuation of some foreign diplomats began after a report by the American edition of The New York Times, which on January 18 announced the departure of Russian diplomats working at the embassy in Ukraine (not only in Kiev, but also at the consulate in Lvov). According to the publication, the children and wives of diplomats left Ukraine in early January. The Russian Embassy in Ukraine has officially denied this information. The Russian diplomat told RBC that the families of the employees were not evacuated, but went on vacation during the New Year holidays.
During the previous aggravation of the situation in Ukraine, in March & April last year, foreign embassies did not recall their employees from the country. As Valery Egoshkin, deputy chairman of the Association of Russian Diplomats, explained to RBC, if the situation in the host state becomes dangerous, then children and wives are first sent home, mainly key embassy employees remain at their jobs, their number is also reduced.
How the balance of power near the border has changed
Washington believes that Russia has concentrated at least 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, with the possibility of doubling the number in a short time. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke about this back in early January. He repeated this assessment at the last talks with Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on 21 January. Russia has also deployed forces to Belarus, giving Moscow the ability to attack Ukraine from the south, east and north, Blinken said. “If Russia wants to convince the world that there are no aggressive plans towards Ukraine, it should start by de-escalating and withdrawing its troops from the borders,” — he said.
The Russian military is really now in Belarus— there, on February 10 & 20, joint maneuvers “Allied Resolve” will be held; 2022". The Ministry of Defense of Belarus announced the arrival of the first units from Russia on January 18. The department noted that the troops will arrive throughout the first stage of the exercise, which will end on February 9.
The Belarusian-Russian exercises will be held near the borders of “neighboring countries”, said the head of the Main Directorate of Combat Training of the Armed Forces of Belarus Andrei Nekrashevich. According to him, in the territories of these “adjacent countries” now there are significant groupings of troops. “Some of them reach 30 thousand people. A large number of aircraft and heavy equipment. Naturally, we could not help but react to these unfriendly actions for our country, for the Union State,” — he said. At the same time, Russia is conducting exercises in the Baltic Sea. They involve 20 ships.
On January 22, Reuters released satellite imagery taken by the US company Maxar Technologies, which allegedly showed a concentration of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine. The agency estimated the size of the group at 100,000 soldiers. The photographs show trucks, tanks and other heavy equipment. It is regularly stated in Moscow that plans for an “invasion” Russia does not have Ukraine. And according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “dangerous attempts to develop Ukrainian territory” NATO is doing it.
On January 24, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin, said that 120,000 Ukrainian troops were now on the line of contact between the unrecognized republic and Ukraine. But, according to him, this is “the stable figure that we have been seeing for three and a half months.”
The New York Times reported the day before that US President Joe Biden is considering deploying US forces in the Baltics and Eastern Europe— ground forces, air force and navy. Options include sending 1,000 to 5,000 troops, with the possibility of increasing that number tenfold if “the situation worsens.”
The next day, NATO countries announced the transfer of military personnel and military equipment to Eastern Europe in connection with the “build-up of the Russian military presence in and around Ukraine.” Denmark will send a frigate to the Baltic Sea and four F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania. The Netherlands will send two F-35 fighter jets to Bulgaria, and one Dutch ship and ground units will be ready to join NATO's rapid reaction force. Spain will send ships to join the alliance's naval forces and is considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria. France expressed its readiness to send troops under NATO command to Romania.
Which side benefits from a military conflict
Vladimir Zelensky held a meeting of the National Security Council on January 24, and then called on foreign intelligence to act more actively. Press Secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov announced a high threat of a military offensive by Ukraine in the Donbass.
For the Zelensky administration, the most favorable situation— “no war, no peace,” says Ukrainian political scientist Vadim Karasev. The war will reformat the political agenda in the country, bringing to the fore the national-patriotic rhetoric, in which ex-president Petro Poroshenko and other opposition figures, such as the leader of the Batkivshchyna, are strong. Yulia Tymoshenko or former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, he explains. It is unprofitable for the Ukrainian authorities to fulfill the Minsk agreements, because it will split the society and the ruling elites, says Karasev. Zelensky and his Servant of the People party— centrists, it is beneficial for them to maneuver. However, the current situation has given rise to some confusion in the ranks of power, as evidenced by the contradictory statements of Zelensky— he calls not to panic, then to defend Kharkiv, Karasev notes.
Russian officials at all levels say that Russia is not going to attack Ukraine. Peskov repeated this once again on Monday.
“Objectively, none of the parties is now interested in escalating the conflict. However, almost all conflicts— both international and domestic— often develop according to their own logic. A classic example— this is the beginning of the First World War, — Igor Zevelev, an expert at the Kennan Institute, draws an analogy. What is happening today in the markets and, in particular, with the ruble exchange rate, shows that there is indeed nervousness about the prospects for this conflict, the expert continues.
“If at the beginning very many people said that the “big war” is absolutely unthinkable, then today we have “moved” towards the fact that it becomes a more realistic scenario than it previously seemed, & mdash; Zevelev warns.— Step by step, countries are being drawn into a situation that is extremely dangerous and has become even more dangerous today.
“Unlike Russia's previous military actions in the post-Soviet space, now there is no trigger for Moscow's military actions,” — Samuel Charap, a senior researcher at the RAND Research Corporation, told RBC. The introduction (in the event of a military escalation) of sanctions against Russia for Western countries will no longer be painless, he believes.
Who benefits from increased information pressure
The current escalation of the situation around Ukraine is similar to the one in March & April last year. Then, too, there was talk of Russia building up forces in the area of the border with Ukraine. CIA director William Burns warned that “the build-up of forces has reached a level that makes it possible to take further aggressive action.” As a result, on April 13, a telephone conversation took place between Putin and Biden, after which the tension began to decrease.
“The logic of the phase of the Russian-American conflict that we are in is that after the first round of negotiations on security guarantees, which did not lead to a change in positions, there should be some escalation. Demonstrative and noisy. Actually, it is happening. And on the Russian side, it is happening to a lesser extent, Russia simply continues to firmly stand on the position that it had. And from the West, we see either an imitation of panic, or a real panic,»,— told RBC the editor-in-chief of the magazine “Russia in Global Affairs” Fedor Lukyanov.
The West, according to him, is building up information pressure in order to present Russia as a country that has almost launched a full-scale aggression. However, the Russian attitude suggests that this will not work, because Russia was counting on it, he continues.
There is a traditional escalation of verbal threats, which usually ends in a microdischarge, but the danger of the current situation is that what one of the parties “may get carried away,” Karasev warns.
The US has both domestic and international reasons for increasing information pressure, Zevelev believes: no American administration wants to look weak. If the Americans make big concessions to Moscow, then Beijing may come to the conclusion that the US— A “paper tiger” that should not be feared in the event of a conflict between China and Taiwan, continues Zevelev.
This week, the United States promised to send Moscow its response to Russian proposals for security guarantees, after which Lavrov's meeting should take place and Blinken.
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