The situation in Eastern Europe and Ukraine seems to have eased somewhat after last week’s summit talks between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Our report today will take a look at the debates that followed, which were highly controversial in many places. The question remains, which of the two world leaders seems to have come out on top?
Until last week, developments in Eastern Europe and around Ukraine had intensified significantly after it became clear that Moscow’s leaders and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would not back down to NATO and the U.S., but rather insist on those “red lines” the West had previously specifically drawn in the sand.
Who is the real aggressor?
First of all, there is the possible deployment of Ukrainian troops on the edge of the Donbas region, which Moscow’s leadership warned about, but which was not only not echoed in the Western media but was rather met with accusations of the deployment of Russian military forces not far from Ukraine’s eastern border.
If the Moscow Kremlin claims that it is now about half of the Ukrainian army, i.e. up to 125,000 soldiers, which Kiev has assembled in the region with the aim of a potential reconquest attempt of the eastern part of the country that has broken away from Ukraine, Western media have been saying for many weeks now that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine.
Furthermore, since President Donald Trump’s term in office, the Kyiv government has been increasingly supplied with U.S. weapons systems, which could shift the military balance of power in the region to the detriment of the Russian Federation and the separatists in the Donbas region in the medium to long term.
Once NATO began to openly discuss the possibility of deploying nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe and transferring Western troops to Ukraine, all the alarm lights seemed to go on in the Moscow Kremlin.
Only recently, a report on the IB Times stated that American Javelin anti-tank missiles were now being used in the Donbas region on the side of Ukrainian combat units.
The contemplated NATO and U.S. plans seem to have been disguised by the Western press as a kind of preventive “defensive response” to the possible threat of a Russian Federation invasion of Ukraine, which has been repeatedly denied by the Moscow Kremlin in recent months.
The question, as always, is which of the two sides may be the real aggressor, culminating in last week’s media announcement that the Russian Federation intends to disconnect from the SWIFT information system in the event of a military intervention in Ukraine.
SWIFT Disconnection: Russia is Prepared
Over the course of the past few years, it has been reported on several occasions that Russia developed its own interbank information network of a similar nature some time ago in order to be adequately prepared for such a threatening scenario.
Referring to a series of test runs in the past, this system is functioning perfectly according to the Russian government, which is why it remains to be seen whether or not such a dramatic escalation will actually occur in view of a threatened tightening of the hitherto existing economic sanctions against the Russian Federation by the West.
Biden rows back…
In any case, on Wednesday last week, there was a virtual summit conversation between U.S. President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, after which Joe Biden officially announced his intention to refrain from a potential deployment of American troops to Ukraine.
Such considerations, Joe Biden said, “are not on the table.” Furthermore, Joe Biden informed that Ukraine is not a member of NATO, therefore the Kyiv government does not have any security guarantees from the United States or other NATO member countries.
Since Ukraine is not a NATO member, NATO has no obligation to provide assistance to Ukraine under Article 5 of the NATO pact.
In some respects, these statements by Joe Biden sounded very much like a backpedaling, which after the Afghanistan debacle of the U.S. and NATO in August was probably not heard with favor either in Kyiv or in Taipei, Taiwan.
…and is at the same time warning
Nevertheless, Joe Biden warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin not to invade eastern Ukraine with his own troops. Should this come to pass, the U.S. and its Western partners would not shy away from tightening (economic) sanctions against the Russian Federation in a very massive way.
At the same time, in such a case, more NATO troops would be sent to the eastern flank of the military nation pact, thus to countries directly bordering Russia. Furthermore, American arms deliveries to Ukraine would then certainly be increased and expanded once again.
Vladimir Putin said that the Moscow Kremlin wanted to remain in dialogue with the Washington government in order to reduce the tensions that had recently escalated. Nevertheless, Vladimir Putin, for his part, insists on the demand for NATO to issue binding guarantees.
Putin: No further eastward expansion of NATO
According to Vladimir Putin, NATO must make a binding commitment not to expand further eastward in Europe or the Caucasus to Russia’s borders. The stationing of Western missiles in Ukraine is an absolute taboo from Russia’s point of view.
Vladimir Putin once again rejected reports by Western media about an imminent invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military, calling such reports “pure provocation”.
On Monday last week, even the American CIA Director William Burns had openly admitted that the U.S. intelligence services did not expect a planned invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.
The Associated Press news agency last week referred to an unnamed source, according to which high-ranking representatives of the U.S. State Department are said to have told the Kiev government in the meantime that it is very unlikely that Ukraine will be admitted to the NATO alliance within the next ten years.
Political observers interpreted this message as an attempt to de-escalate tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation over developments in Ukraine.
Ukraine reacts in a controversial way
Rather, Associated Press also referred to officials of the Biden administration, who had said that in the future they wanted to exert more political pressure on Ukraine to grant autonomous status to the separatists in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region.
The Kyiv government had already shown its willingness to take such a step in 2014, taking into account the Minsk Agreement. As could hardly be expected otherwise, the reaction in Ukraine to the talks that took place between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin can nevertheless be described as highly controversial.
For example, the former head of Ukraine’s security services, Igor Smeshko, called for the development of an extensive nuclear missile arsenal in Ukraine in order to be victorious in the war with the Russian Federation. In an interview with Ukraine 24TV, Igor Smeshko criticized the lack of support from “Ukraine’s supposed friends from the West.”
Without such support, he said, it would not be possible for his own country to defend itself against the aggression of the Russian Federation. If his country had the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, more than a million soldiers under arms, and a strategically deployable air force, Igor Smeshko said, Ukraine would be able to defend itself adequately without support from the West.
I leave it to everyone to think for themselves what weapons systems of this kind could do in the hands of the Kyiv government. The Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky, on the other hand, spoke in a completely different tone after the talks between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden.
Zelensky no longer rules out referendum
Last Friday, referring to a report by Russian broadcaster RT.com, Zelensky had told Kyiv’s 1+1 television station that he no longer wanted to rule out a referendum to be held on the future status of the two breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.
Zelensky was also open to the idea of starting direct talks between the leaders of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Earlier, Zelensky had a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron.
According to Zelensky, he does not want to exclude holding a referendum on the future status of the Donbas regions and possibly the Crimean peninsula in order to end the ongoing war with the Russian Federation. According to Zelensky, there is some support from the European partners as well as the USA for the start of direct talks between him and Vladimir Putin.
Reactions are divided in the U.S. as well
As expected, the conversation between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin was also controversial in the United States. “Red media” used Joe Biden’s subsequent statement to attack the White House and the U.S. president head-on.
For example, the FoxNews channel referred to statements by Larry Kudlow, the Trump administration’s top economic adviser. According to this statement, Vladimir Putin had received everything that he had secretly wished for and hoped for.
The USNews site said that American government officials had suggested that the Biden administration exert more political pressure on the Ukrainian government to grant the breakaway Donbas republics autonomous status within Ukraine in the future. These developments were interpreted in “red media” quite in the sense of a defeat of Joe Biden, which could have been expected before.
Larry Kudlow also warned that Joe Biden had fully bowed to the political demands of Vladimir Putin.
Already in the month of July, it was said on the site of msn.com, referring to a publication of the Washington Examiner, that the administration of Joe Biden had made a multi-billion dollar gift to Vladimir Putin, taking into account an abandonment of its own opposition to future commissioning of the Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2.
That it is by no means easy to please the U.S.’s European partners is shown, for example, by the reactions among a number of European NATO partners of the United States following Joe Biden’s and Vladimir Putin’s conversation.
Whereas Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had recently announced that relations between his country and NATO were not bad because there were simply no longer any relations between Russia and NATO, a revival of talks between the top NATO leadership and Russia, soon to be announced by Joe Biden, had caused dismay in some Eastern European countries.
Baltic states have their own view
In a report on the Bloomberg website, it was stated that the Baltic states, i.e. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have been particularly critical of such plans.
This may be due, among other things, to the fact that the smaller NATO partners are not to be granted participation in these talks – in contrast to the large partner countries in Western Europe.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas criticized that the Russian Federation should not be allowed to influence which countries set the tone within NATO. According to Kaja Kallas, it is the wish and goal of the Moscow Kremlin to divide the European continent into different spheres of influence.
On the basis of its own history, Estonia remembers only too well how such attempts at manipulation and influence were carried out in the past.
Regardless of the angle from which things and developments are viewed and judged, it is clear that a relaxation of the situation in Eastern Europe and Ukraine is urgently needed in order to avoid the risk of war. As yet, there is not too much to suggest that the West is actually keen on the outbreak of a military conflict on the western Russian borders, despite a media-generated threat backdrop.
Rather, it is to be expected that nations such as Ukraine or possibly Georgia will be further armed by the U.S. and the West on a massive scale over the course of the next few years in order to establish a different balance of power there.
The Moscow Kremlin will also be aware of this in all probability, so that it remains to be seen whether the Moscow leadership will receive the guarantees from the West that have been called for in the meantime – or whether Russia, for its part, will escalate the situation in the region even more in order to obtain these guarantees.