The world is worried Putin is about to invade Ukraine. Here’s why

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dating back to 2011.

Cloth Coverini | AFP | Getty Images

Experts and officials are closely watching President Vladimir Putin, who fears that Russia may be planning a military escalation with its neighbor Ukraine.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops have reportedly gathered on the border with Ukraine, and experts fear Russia is on the cusp of a repeat of its 2014 invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, which sparked global outrage and sanctions against Moscow.

“We should all be very concerned that, frankly, I share that assessment,” Michal Baranowski, director and senior fellow in the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund, told CNBC when asked if Russia was about to embark on military action against Ukraine. He described Russia’s highly strained relationship with Ukraine as a conflict “on the cusp of war.”

“This assessment is shared by many here in Warsaw and Washington, DC,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Wednesday, adding, “We’re seeing a very large backlog of threats on the border with Ukraine. So it’s really an important moment for the West. To ramp up pressure on Putin.”

Last week, US officials reportedly warned their European counterparts that Russia might consider a possible invasion of Ukraine. The Defense Ministry in Kiev said in early November that about 90,000 soldiers were massing at the border during this process Reuters reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that there were approximately 100,000 Russian soldiers on the border.

For his part, when asked if Russia was planning a military invasion of Ukraine, Putin dismissed the idea as “worrisome” in an interview with Russia 1 website last weekend.

Russia has also sought to downplay its troop movements, with Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov saying last week that “troop movements on our territory should not be a cause for anyone’s concern,” the Associated Press reported. CNBC has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for further comments.

Concerns about Russia’s possible next step when it comes to Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union before its dissolution in 1991, come against a broader backdrop of deteriorating relations between Russia and its allies on one side — and Europe and the United States, on the other.

Tensions have emerged on a number of fronts from energy and political interference to cyberwarfare and migrants, with Russia accused of helping Belarus orchestrate a growing migrant crisis on the EU’s doorstep.

Migrants gather at the Belarusian-Polish border trying to cross it at the Bruzgi-Kuznica Bialostocka border crossing in Grodno region, Belarus on November 15, 2021.

Oksana Manchuk | BELTA | charity | via Reuters

Russian expert Timothy Ash, chief emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, noted on Tuesday that “it appears that Putin is preparing for war with Ukraine. He has the motive, the opportunity, and the weapon.”

Asch said his motivation was “that he wanted Ukraine, because he did not accept its loss in ’91 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and sees Ukraine as central to his vision of Greater Russia”.

The chance, Ashe said, was that “the West is weak, divided, and lacking in focus. Biden is focused on China, Europe on gas, immigrants, and the Balkans. Ukraine is politically weak.”

And what about Putin’s potential weapon? “Well, an invasion force of several hundred thousand in/around Ukraine, including troops already in Donbass and Crimea. Add gas, immigrants, political intrigues and cyberspace,” Ash said.

International interests

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said last week that Washington was concerned about reports of “extraordinary Russian military activity” near Russia’s border with Ukraine, warning that if Russia commits further aggressive actions against Ukraine, we are committed, and Germany is committed, to take appropriate action. He did not say what this action might entail.

European leaders continued to express their concerns this week.

The foreign ministers of Germany and France, Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian, issued a statement on Tuesday pledging their “unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“Against the background of renewed concerns about the movements of Russian forces and materials near Ukraine, we call on Russia to exercise restraint and provide transparent information about its military activities. Any new attempt to undermine Ukraine’s territorial integrity will have serious consequences,” the ministers said.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday on Twitter that the military alliance is “closely monitoring the unusually large concentrations of Russian forces near Ukraine’s borders. We call on Russia to be transparent, prevent escalation and reduce tensions.”

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron told Putin on Monday that his country is ready to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. But how far the European Union and the United States will go to defend Ukraine is uncertain.

Last week, US President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen discussed Ukraine, saying they “fully support Ukraine’s territorial integrity” but did not say how far they would go to protect the country.

Ukraine said the West should send a strong message to Moscow not to take any aggressive action.

“If we continue to have strong Western partners on our side and take resolute measures, this will help us prevent war and bloodshed and that is what we are focusing on now,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “Today” program on the BBC Wednesday.

Tensions on other fronts

Russia has been accused of helping spark another crisis on the Belarus-Poland border, where large numbers of migrants from the Middle East have gathered in an attempt to enter the European Union.

Belarus, Putin’s ally, has been accused of “arming” migrants and orchestrating the migrant crisis (mainly by inviting migrants into the country with the knowledge that they will then try to enter the European Union via Poland) in order to destabilize the bloc and divert attention from Russia. mobilize forces.

Belarus denies it orchestrated the migrant crisis and Russia denies any involvement, with Putin’s press secretary telling reporters last week that “Russia – like other countries – is trying to get involved in resolving the situation.”

Another primary source of tension is energy, with Russia accused of masterminding Europe’s energy price crisis in recent months by withholding supplies while it waits for the regulatory green light for a controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will send gas supplies to Europe, bypassing Ukraine. .

German regulators suspended the pipeline’s certification process this week, saying its operator must comply with German law before it approves the pipeline. As a result, gas prices in Europe rose on Tuesday.

A worker adjusts the pipeline valve at the Gazprom PGSC Slavyanskaya compressor station, the starting point of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, in Ust Luga, Russia, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The pipeline is controversial in Europe with Poland and Ukraine saying the project threatens Europe’s energy security (Ukraine will also lose vital gas transit fees it earns when gas supplies enter Europe through its pipelines). The United States (which rivals Russia for a share of the gas market in Europe) has poured its contempt on the pipeline.

Nord Stream 2 certainly poses a problem for Europe; On the one hand, it is dependent on Russia’s gas imports (about 40% of EU natural gas imports come from Russia) but has vowed to protect Ukraine, a country with ambitions to join the European Union, to Russia’s alarm.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned earlier this week that the European Union needed to choose between “concentrating” Russian gas and supporting Ukraine.

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