This week’s intense diplomatic negotiation between Westerners and Russians to try to avoid the worst in Ukraine has left nothing clear and leaves the choice between blockade or probable conflict.
Russia, which concentrated nearly 100,000 men on the border with Ukraine, continues to demand a commitment from NATO that it will never integrate this former Soviet republic into its ranks.
Faced with Russian “maximum pressure”, the United States is “ready for all kinds of alternatives”, even “harsh” economic and financial retaliation.
And to close out the week, Ukraine was the target of a massive, unclaimed cyberattack on Friday that blocked a portion of its government sites.
– And now? –
After diplomatic negotiations in Geneva, Brussels (NATO) and Vienna (OSCE), the Russians demand without delay a response to their claims.
Russia does not see where the usefulness lies in holding new talks “in the next few days” and awaits written responses from Westerners.
The United States, for its part, rejects all Russian requests for NATO, which de facto leads Europe to the geopolitical equilibrium of 1991 when the Soviet Union (USSR) fell.
The United States proposes to start “processes” of negotiations focused on arms control and the limitation of military exercises, recurring sources of tension. Which for the Russians is totally insufficient at this level.
“We are at an impasse. In the current state of things, the Russian and US positions are irreconcilable,” says Melinda Haring, deputy director of the US Eurasia Center, in an analysis note.
“The decision to continue or not the discussions will be made by Vladimir Putin and nobody knows for now what it will be,” said Marie Dumoulin, an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe at the European Council on International Relations (ECFR).
– Is the risk of a war in Ukraine still present? –
War is “unfortunately more likely,” says Haring in Washington. We must wait for “a new exacerbation of the crisis by force,” says Dmitri Trenin on the site of the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
For Francois Heisbourg, special adviser at the Strategic Research Foundation (FRS) in Paris, “the situation is totally volatile” and the “risk of war is high”.
The Russian negotiator, Sergei Riabkov, however assured Monday in Geneva that the Russians had no intention “of attacking Ukraine”.
But a military intervention could take other forms, notes Maxim Suchkov, director of the Institute for International Studies at MGIMO University in Moscow.
When Putin raises the threat of a “military and technical” response, he may think, for example, of the “deployment of missiles in Donbas or Crimea,” Suchkov said in an analysis published on the site warontherocks.com.
It could be limited “territorial seizures” to connect Donbas, under the control of pro-Russian separatists, to Crimea annexed in 2014 by Russia, adds François Heisbourg.
According to US intelligence, the Russians “have not yet made a final decision” about an eventual invasion.
– Are Putin’s intentions clearer? –
For Dumoulin, the Russians maintain “maximum pressure to obtain more”, but “the scenario of military intervention is not the most probable” since its “military, political, financial and human cost” would be considerable.
The US counterproposals about not deploying missiles in Europe or limiting military exercises have long been part of their demands.
“They know that in the event of a military intervention in Ukraine, they will get nothing but massive sanctions and a de facto severance of all their relations with Western countries,” Dumoulin believes.
For his part, Putin denounces his country’s containment policy, a Russian historical obsession, and has long demanded “security guarantees” from Westerners.
According to Suchkov, the United States, now totally focused on its rivalry with China, could have an “interest in a stable and predictable relationship” with Russia and in a “security architecture in Europe that makes it easier for it to focus on the Indo-Pacific issue.” It is the Kremlin’s bet, he points out.
– “Europe maneuvers to defend its interests”
Whether in NATO or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), “Europeans maneuver to defend their interests,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
“We receive the guarantee that nothing will be decided or negotiated without the Europeans and the coordination with the Americans is absolutely perfect,” said the head of European diplomacy, the Spaniard Josep Borrell.