The West raises the tone even more against Vladimir Putin. The leaders of the G-7 have assured this Tuesday that they will demand the Russian president responsibilities for the “war crimes” perpetrated in the escalation of Moscow attacks on cities and civilian targets in the conflict in Ukraine. In an extraordinary meeting by videoconference, in which the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelensky, also participated, the seven leaders that make up this club of rich countries have reaffirmed their support for kyiv in all possible fields, from military to economic. In Brussels, NATO issued the same message on Tuesday: the alliance will support Ukraine “as long as necessary.”
The language of the Western powers has been as forceful as it could be within diplomatic channels. They thus show the widespread indignation at the monday missile surge, which left at least 19 dead and that this Tuesday has been repeated with less intensity, on all kinds of civil infrastructure and residential neighborhoods in Ukrainian cities. These attacks have been Putin’s response to the Kerch bridge explosion in Crimea last Saturday.
The statement by the seven leaders is also an indication of concern over the Kremlin’s repeated threats to use atomic weapons, a possibility that US President Joe Biden last week called “Armageddon.” Despite this deep concern, both NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the White House National Security Council strategic communications coordinator, John Kirby, have insisted at respective press conferences in Brussels and Washington that — for the time being—neither the Atlantic Alliance, which monitors and analyzes Russian nuclear forces, nor the US intelligence services have detected changes in Moscow’s nuclear posture or any preparations for there to be any soon.
“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms,” underlines the final statement of the meeting of industrialized nations, which points to Putin as “responsible” for a “deliberate” escalation that includes, in addition to nuclear threats, the mobilization of reservists in Russia. “We reaffirm that any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons will have serious consequences,” the statement added.
The seven countries – the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Japan – have underlined their unconditional support for Ukraine, to which it will continue to provide assistance of all kinds: “financial, humanitarian, military, diplomatic and legal”. kyiv has the “legitimate right” to recover its borders after Moscow declared the annexation of four occupied regions, they say. And the G-7 maintains its “resolute and firm” commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We remain ready to reach agreements with interested countries and institutions and with Ukraine on lasting security and other commitments to help Ukraine defend itself, ensure its free and democratic future, and deter future Russian aggression,” the group said.
NATO maintains its nuclear maneuvers
For its part, NATO has not changed its alert status. The Atlantic Alliance will maintain its annual Steadfast Noon nuclear readiness drills despite increasingly tough threats from Putin to use any available defense material to defend territory it sees as Russia (including the four illegally annexed Ukrainian regions). This also includes their nuclear weapons.
“It would send a very wrong signal if we suddenly canceled a long-planned routine exercise due to the war in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg insisted on the eve of a meeting of defense ministers from allied countries. “If we now create the basis for misunderstandings, miscalculations in Moscow about our willingness to protect and defend all allies, we would increase the risk of escalation,” added the secretary general.
The Steadfast Noon exercises, in which 14 of the 30 NATO members will participate, practice the use of US nuclear bombs based in Europe – the Pentagon maintains a hundred of these tactical weapons there – with training flights, without real weapons. Conventional aircraft and surveillance will also participate in the exercises; and refueling.
At the G-7 meeting, the leaders listened to Zelensky, who called for a “just peace”. That peace must include, in addition to respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, the preservation of its ability to defend itself in the future, the punishment of war crimes perpetrated by Moscow and guarantees for the reconstruction of the country, for which they could “explore” possibilities of resorting to Russian funds.
The Ukrainian president, who has described Moscow’s latest actions as “a new stage in the escalation”, has called for more sanctions against the neighboring and enemy country, as well as the sending of air defense systems. In his list of requests he has also included a mission to monitor the border with Belarus, where the latest initiatives by authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko raise fears of a greater involvement of that ally of Moscow in the conflict.
Warning to Belarus
The West believes that the risk of Minsk falling headlong into Russia’s war in Ukraine is real. The leaders have sent a warning to Minsk on Tuesday, both in Brussels and in the virtual meeting of the G-7. “President Lukashenko should stop Belarus’s complicity in this illegal conflict,” Stoltenberg stressed. On Monday, after the black day of Russian attacks on Ukraine, Lukashenko ordered the deployment of his troops alongside Russian troops near its borders with Ukraine and declared that they had begun exercises to assess their “combat readiness.”
Lukashenko faces a very difficult situation at home, where he has repressed the opposition and civil society with extreme harshness for years. He relies heavily on Putin for his livelihood, but he doesn’t want to give up power, keeping him in a precarious balance. Until now, Belarus has not participated with its own regular troops in the invasion of Ukraine, although at the beginning of the crisis it allowed Russian forces to enter Ukraine from its territory: both countries share more than 1,000 kilometers of borders that had traditionally been very porous .
Although the Belarusian forces would not give the Kremlin much additional leverage now, they could open another front in Ukraine, in the north, and would distract Ukrainian forces from counter-offensives in the south and east, allied sources point out.
In a scenario in which the forms of hybrid warfare are spreading, the defense ministers will speak these days at NATO headquarters in Brussels about the attacks on critical infrastructure, following the sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, which the Atlantic Alliance has not openly attributed to anyone. “A deliberate attack on allied critical infrastructure will be met with a united and determined response,” Stoltenberg said. The leaders of the seven industrialized countries spoke in a similar vein, welcoming the investigations, in which the Swedish, Danish and German authorities participate.
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