Crisis in Ukraine: Vladimir Putin, the suspense to the end

It was just three months ago. With a serious face, during a press conference, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, worried about “suspicious troop movements” on his borders. Who, then, pays attention to him? Certainly not Joe Biden, who then sealed a major alliance with Australia and the United Kingdom. The center of the world has moved, the United States must redeploy in Asia-Pacific to counter the ambitions of their Chinese rival.

But that was three months ago. Since then, a man from the world before, that of the Cold War and old Europe, has remembered the good memory of the American president: Vladimir Poutine. During the winter, he massed troops on the borders of Ukraine, to the point of almost completely surrounding it. Its demands are as clear as they are brutal: put an end to NATO’s eastward expansion and redefine European security policy.

Buried agreements

After several weeks of long negotiations with the Westerners, during which they hoped, until the end, for a diplomatic outcome, the Russian president has decided. At the end of a long speech, Putin recognized, on February 21, the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. This decision definitively buries the Minsk agreements, signed in 2015 by Kiev and Moscow, under Franco-German patronage, which provided for the eventual return of the secessionist regions to the Ukrainian fold. That same February 21, Vladimir Putin ordered the dispatch of Russian forces to these territories to “maintain peace”. Before appending them? And to use it as a springboard to attack Ukraine?

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How far will he go? It’s hard to say, as Putin likes to mix things up. “He likes to have a lot of room for maneuver, decrypts Tatiana Jean, director of the Russia center at the French Institute of International Relations. He wants to open up all options and keep them open to choose at the last moment.”

“He always has several simultaneous scenarios, which makes him unpredictable, confirms Michel Eltchaninoff, author of In the head of Vladimir Poutine (Solin / Actes Sud). He can bomb Ukraine, attack from the north or the south, lead a hybrid war through massive cyberattacks…” Or freeze the situation, as he did in Georgia.

Only certainty, its “fundamentals” do not change. He wants to create a zone of influence like in the Soviet era. He continues to think that Ukraine is not a country, but a territory subservient to Westerners which must return sooner or later to the “Russian empire”. For the founder of the R. Politik think tank, Tatiana Stanovaya, “Putin remains firmly convinced that the West seeks to weaken Russia in order to destroy it and that it has taken Ukraine hostage for this very purpose.”

Ideas that the head of the Kremlin shares with his relatives, advisers from the first circle, like him, from the secret services. Among them, Nikolai Patrushev and Alexander Bortnikov, the former and current directors of the internal intelligence service (FSB), and Sergei Naryshkin, the head of foreign intelligence. “Even if he decides alone, Putin respects their judgment,” says Tatiana Stanovaya.

Conversely, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu does not seem to be a leading figure, any more than Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “Diplomats have little say in the matter, continues Tatiana Stanovaya. They can express their points of view, but these are most often ignored. When Lavrov gives a presentation detailing the risks and his own concerns, it annoys Putin , who prefers to consult his inner circle.”

New cold war

That’s a shame. Because it is not certain that Sergei Lavrov, trained in the demanding school of Russian diplomacy, is a fervent supporter of the military option – a scenario which, a few months ago, was unlikely. “Many things that seemed impossible have become reality,” sighs a retired senior Ukrainian officer in Kiev, who wishes to remain anonymous. “We must therefore also consider the impossible in Ukraine, such as bombardments on the capital or an attack on chariots in this land of plains.”

Impossible for Putin to crush a city under a carpet of bombs? Yet he did it in Grozny, Chechnya, in 1999 and 2000. Impossible, the invasion of a neighboring country? He dared to do so in Georgia in 2008. Finally, it was impossible to annex a province of a “brother country”? Putin showed he could by annexing Crimea in 2014.

So why would he stop at the gates of Ukraine? War or not, “we risk, whatever happens, to have it for years”, sighs Tatiana Jean. Even if the Russian president “freezes” his positions in the Donbass and does not venture beyond the current front line, nothing will prevent him from maintaining permanent tension with the West. By building barracks on the Ukrainian border for his soldiers, he will pose a constant military threat to that country. With the risk that the Ukrainian soldiers end up yielding to the provocation, thus providing him with a pretext to attack.

L'Express

This pressure could also apply to its other neighbours, Moldova and the Baltic countries, which find themselves on the front line. What Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, recently called a “new normal” for Europe. Welcome to Vladimir Putin’s New Cold War.


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