.
T

ensions between Russia and Western-backed Ukraine are expected to remain high throughout 2022. The fate of the Eastern European nation will largely depend on whether the United States and the Russian Federation will reach a wider security agreement.

Indeed, for both Moscow and Washington Ukraine is merely a political object. Although Ukrainian officials insist that the U.S. will not make any deals with Russia behind Kyiv’s back, in reality the American President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have already held two “virtual summits” in which they discussed the situation in the former Soviet republic without the participation of Ukraine. 

On January 10, Russia and the U.S. are set to yet again discus Ukraine, as well as nuclear arms control, and two days later Russian and NATO representatives are expected to meet, while a broader summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is scheduled to be held on January 13. Ukraine, for its part, will likely be informed about the outcome of the talks. It is entirely possible that Biden, who spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on January 2, informed his counterpart about results of his summit with Putin held on December 30. Still, Kyiv will unlikely get the opportunity to directly negotiate with the Kremlin.

Putin openly refuses to discuss the Donbass conflict in Eastern Ukraine with Zelensky claiming that Russia is not a party in the war that erupted in 2014. Instead, he suggests the Ukrainian leader should talk to the representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic, which is completely unacceptable for Kyiv. Ukrainian leadership is aware that the Donbass republics are proxies that Russia is using against their country, while for the Kremlin Ukraine is seen as an instrument that the West uses against Moscow. That is why the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov recently stressed that the Ukrainian crisis is not even Putin’s level, but his own, and has threatened to invade the Eastern European nation if it does not change its political course. 

However, that does not necessarily mean that the invasion will take place any time soon. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out, Moscow will move to “eliminate unacceptable threats” if the United States and NATO do not respond to the Kremlin’s security demands. 

“If the West continues its aggressive course, Russia will have to take all necessary measures to maintain a strategic balance and remove unacceptable threats to our security,” Lavrov said, emphasizing that an “adequate response” will be given to any possible military provocations by Kyiv against the Donbas self-proclaimed republics. 

In other words, if Ukraine launches a large-scale military offensive in the Donbass, the Kremlin will likely provide support to its proxies in the coal-rich region. But that still does not mean that Russia will invade Ukraine. Moscow could attempt to implement the same strategy it used in 2014 and 2015 when it covertly sent weapons and “off-duty troops on vacation” to the Donbass. This time, however, such an approach will unlikely help Russia’s proxies to repel a potential Ukrainian large-scale attack. 

Ukraine has had more than enough time to prepare for a military offensive. Kyiv has purchased sophisticated combat drones from Turkey, as well as Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States. Moreover, the Eastern European nation’s army is motivated to fight, and over the past eight years has gained combat experience. If Russia does not openly interfere to protect its proxies, Ukrainian Armed Forces will not have a hard time defeating the so-called People’ Militias of the Donbass republics. 

If Russia, however, intervenes, the West will undoubtedly see it as an aggression against Ukraine and will impose severe sanctions on Moscow. 

“I made it clear to President Putin that we will have severe sanctions, we will increase our presence in Europe, with NATO allies,” Biden said on December 31. 

Earlier that month, a group of U.S. lawmakers, as well as the Ukrainian President, called for preemptive sanctions on Russia in an attempt to prevent Moscow from waging a war against its neighbor. Even if the Kremlin does not invade Ukraine, the West will likely impose certain sanctions on Russia. Sanctions are an integral part of a new Cold War, and in the long-term they will have a negative impact on the Russian economy, especially if Western powers eventually ban Russia from SWIFT—the international payment system used by banks around the world. Such a move would result in even higher prices of natural gas, and countries that depend on Russian energy would face serious obstacles in purchasing Russian oil and gas.

It is worth noting that Russian gas giant Gazprom has not booked gas transit capacity for exports via the Yamal-Europe pipeline, and the Russian President explained that Gazprom’s European customers have not purchased their requests forward. In other words, Europe is already learning to live without Russian energy, although it is highly uncertain if such a practice is sustainable in the long-term, given European heavy dependency on Russian gas, oil, and coal

In order to avoid sanctions, Russia could try to reach a deal with the West, although any arrangement that does not explicitly rule out NATO expansion eastward—whether that means Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance, or NATO troops and weapons in the Eastern European country—would represent another geopolitical defeat for Moscow. The United States, on the other hand, is unlikely to agree to provide guarantees to the Kremlin that Ukraine will not join NATO, since such a move would be interpreted as sign of weakness. 

Therefore, chances for Moscow and Washington to reach a deal in January are not high, unless the Kremlin agrees to make significant concessions to its Western partners.

About
Nikola Mikovic
:
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Will Russia and the U.S. Make a Deal Over Ukraine?

Airborne troops of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Photo via Adobe Stock.

January 5, 2022

Tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine look to remain high through 2022. Any progress toward procuring Ukraine's security will be contingent on a broader US-Russia security agreement, and this is by no means assured, writes Nikola Mikovic.

T

ensions between Russia and Western-backed Ukraine are expected to remain high throughout 2022. The fate of the Eastern European nation will largely depend on whether the United States and the Russian Federation will reach a wider security agreement.

Indeed, for both Moscow and Washington Ukraine is merely a political object. Although Ukrainian officials insist that the U.S. will not make any deals with Russia behind Kyiv’s back, in reality the American President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have already held two “virtual summits” in which they discussed the situation in the former Soviet republic without the participation of Ukraine. 

On January 10, Russia and the U.S. are set to yet again discus Ukraine, as well as nuclear arms control, and two days later Russian and NATO representatives are expected to meet, while a broader summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is scheduled to be held on January 13. Ukraine, for its part, will likely be informed about the outcome of the talks. It is entirely possible that Biden, who spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on January 2, informed his counterpart about results of his summit with Putin held on December 30. Still, Kyiv will unlikely get the opportunity to directly negotiate with the Kremlin.

Putin openly refuses to discuss the Donbass conflict in Eastern Ukraine with Zelensky claiming that Russia is not a party in the war that erupted in 2014. Instead, he suggests the Ukrainian leader should talk to the representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic, which is completely unacceptable for Kyiv. Ukrainian leadership is aware that the Donbass republics are proxies that Russia is using against their country, while for the Kremlin Ukraine is seen as an instrument that the West uses against Moscow. That is why the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov recently stressed that the Ukrainian crisis is not even Putin’s level, but his own, and has threatened to invade the Eastern European nation if it does not change its political course. 

However, that does not necessarily mean that the invasion will take place any time soon. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out, Moscow will move to “eliminate unacceptable threats” if the United States and NATO do not respond to the Kremlin’s security demands. 

“If the West continues its aggressive course, Russia will have to take all necessary measures to maintain a strategic balance and remove unacceptable threats to our security,” Lavrov said, emphasizing that an “adequate response” will be given to any possible military provocations by Kyiv against the Donbas self-proclaimed republics. 

In other words, if Ukraine launches a large-scale military offensive in the Donbass, the Kremlin will likely provide support to its proxies in the coal-rich region. But that still does not mean that Russia will invade Ukraine. Moscow could attempt to implement the same strategy it used in 2014 and 2015 when it covertly sent weapons and “off-duty troops on vacation” to the Donbass. This time, however, such an approach will unlikely help Russia’s proxies to repel a potential Ukrainian large-scale attack. 

Ukraine has had more than enough time to prepare for a military offensive. Kyiv has purchased sophisticated combat drones from Turkey, as well as Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States. Moreover, the Eastern European nation’s army is motivated to fight, and over the past eight years has gained combat experience. If Russia does not openly interfere to protect its proxies, Ukrainian Armed Forces will not have a hard time defeating the so-called People’ Militias of the Donbass republics. 

If Russia, however, intervenes, the West will undoubtedly see it as an aggression against Ukraine and will impose severe sanctions on Moscow. 

“I made it clear to President Putin that we will have severe sanctions, we will increase our presence in Europe, with NATO allies,” Biden said on December 31. 

Earlier that month, a group of U.S. lawmakers, as well as the Ukrainian President, called for preemptive sanctions on Russia in an attempt to prevent Moscow from waging a war against its neighbor. Even if the Kremlin does not invade Ukraine, the West will likely impose certain sanctions on Russia. Sanctions are an integral part of a new Cold War, and in the long-term they will have a negative impact on the Russian economy, especially if Western powers eventually ban Russia from SWIFT—the international payment system used by banks around the world. Such a move would result in even higher prices of natural gas, and countries that depend on Russian energy would face serious obstacles in purchasing Russian oil and gas.

It is worth noting that Russian gas giant Gazprom has not booked gas transit capacity for exports via the Yamal-Europe pipeline, and the Russian President explained that Gazprom’s European customers have not purchased their requests forward. In other words, Europe is already learning to live without Russian energy, although it is highly uncertain if such a practice is sustainable in the long-term, given European heavy dependency on Russian gas, oil, and coal

In order to avoid sanctions, Russia could try to reach a deal with the West, although any arrangement that does not explicitly rule out NATO expansion eastward—whether that means Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance, or NATO troops and weapons in the Eastern European country—would represent another geopolitical defeat for Moscow. The United States, on the other hand, is unlikely to agree to provide guarantees to the Kremlin that Ukraine will not join NATO, since such a move would be interpreted as sign of weakness. 

Therefore, chances for Moscow and Washington to reach a deal in January are not high, unless the Kremlin agrees to make significant concessions to its Western partners.

About
Nikola Mikovic
:
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.