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On the tense situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border
On the tense situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border

Will a big war break out? Or is the tense situation along the Russian border in eastern Ukraine stabilizing? There is one scenario that is particularly worrying.

Vladimir Putin chuckled at the ironic allusion, and then joked it off.

The Russian president has just shown photographs of his father in military uniform to American filmmaker Oliver Stone. Putin told how his father participated in the Great Patriotic War and from where his unit was stationed.

In the Crimean Sevastopol, Ukraine.

“So that's why you took him,” Stone said half-jokingly, referring to the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula. This moment is immortalized in Stone's 2017 documentary about the leader of Russia.

Today, nobody laughs at the situation along the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Demonstration of military force

The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was followed by a civil war in the Donbass in eastern Ukraine. Since then, Russia has no longer organized such a large-scale show of force in the border areas.

But the EU said on Tuesday that it is estimated that Russia has mobilized more than 100,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine and on the Crimean peninsula. Experts warn that in such a tense situation, one spark is enough to cause an explosion.

“We expect that in the near future more than 120 thousand Russian troops will be mobilized. The current mobilization is even larger than in 2014, and we cannot rule out anything. We are seeing strategic training, military training,”said Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, at a press conference where Dagbladet journalists were also invited.

The head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry believes that there are several reasons for the actions of Russia and Putin.

Russia wants to put more pressure on Ukraine to end the war in Donbass on its own terms.

Russia wants to demonstrate its strength to the Western world.

Putin wants to boost his popularity ahead of the parliamentary elections in Russia and divert attention from domestic political issues.

Three Norwegian experts specializing in Russia and Ukraine disagree with the Ukrainian minister.

Creates pressure

Tor Bukkvoll, a senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Research, explains clearly what he believes is Russia's main motivation.

“The Russians do not want the development of events in Donbass to go in a direction that is disadvantageous to them. They hope to thwart this by scaring the West into putting more pressure on Ukraine and helping to resolve the conflict in Russia's favor. However, it is illogical that they themselves only snort at Western pressure and argue that this will not force Russia to act according to the will of the West. And with regard to Ukraine, for some reason, they expect their pressure to work,”says Dagbladet, an expert on Russian and Ukrainian foreign and defense policy, Bukkwall.

“It is also possible that some in Moscow are actually afraid that Kiev will recapture the occupied areas in eastern Ukraine,” he adds.

But Ukraine made it clear that there was no question of an offensive operation, and repeated this as recently as Tuesday, at a press meeting where Dagbladet was also present. Researcher Jakub Godzimirski of the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy also believes that this is not a very likely reason for the escalation.

“I think it's all about the show of force. The cost of the military operation would be too high for Russia, which the international community has sharply signaled that it is time to reduce the degree of tension. Otherwise, there will be corresponding economic consequences for it,”Godzimirsky told Dagbladet.

Dagbladet: Putin is also being criticized a lot in his own country for the Navalny case and the coronavirus strategy. Could the conflict with Ukraine be considered an attempt to divert attention?

Jakub Godzimirsky:Many associate Russia's foreign policy with what is happening inside the country. Russian authorities warn people against participating in demonstrations in support of an opposition politician who has gone on a hunger strike, and mobilization near the Ukrainian border could serve as a distraction that the Russian regime intends to use to maintain peace and order at home, which has become difficult, among other things, due to the coronavirus strategy., which many considered controversial.

Dangerous scenario

The Russian fleet sent 15 ships to the Kerch Strait - the sea route to the Sea of ​​Azov, which runs past Crimea.

Russia has made it clear that it will stop all foreign private vessels and warships, but will make an exception for commercial vessels such as cargo ships.

It was here that in 2018 a bitter conflict broke out between Ukraine and Russia, which fired at and took control of three Ukrainian warships.

“This is exactly the area where an unplanned confrontation can happen. The question is whether Ukraine will seize the chance to break through the proposed blockade when the strait is closed. I doubt it, of course, but at the same time we must not forget that this strait is of key importance for important Ukrainian port cities."

This is exactly what Dmitry Kozak, the deputy head of Putin’s administration, hinted at the other day, saying that if Ukraine starts hostilities, Russia will shoot not in the leg, but in the head.

And then a big war can begin.

Putin's dilemma

It is about Russia's opposition to the world, says Iver B. Neuman, an expert on Russia and director of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute.

“It is no coincidence that Russia decided to take Crimea in a situation when China challenged the United States and started talking about restructuring the system. This is not only about Eastern Ukraine and Russia, but also about what the standard in international politics should be,”said Neumann Dagbladet.

China did not speak out on this issue, but it does not like what is happening at all, the expert said.

“If there is a country in the world that needs to strengthen its sovereignty without external interference, it is China. At the same time, China loves the idea that it can take whatever it considers its own, as it has already done in Hong Kong and is going to do in Taiwan. The Chinese remain loyal adherents of national sovereignty because they do not want to let go of the Tibetans, for example,”says Neumann.

And this is where Putin's dilemma lies, according to the expert. What will he do? While he is doing what Russia ate a dog after the collapse of the Soviet Union: creating unstable situations at the borders.

“We in the West are accustomed to thinking that peace and tranquility at the borders is beneficial, but Russia has relied on destabilization. Why? Because in the case of unstable borders, the strong side wins, because in such situations the rule “who is stronger is right” works”.

Next step

When asked what Putin's next step will be, Godzimirsky of the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy replied: “I think that Russia will put pressure on Ukraine for some time, but then it will withdraw some of its forces from the region, because it will understand that the direct use of military means will entail there are too many political losses behind it without providing the corresponding strategic benefits. The West has made it clear that aggression against Ukraine will have serious consequences for relations between Russia and Western countries, which remain Russia's most important economic partners."

Several countries are now working hard to force the parties to the conflict to defuse the crisis situation.For example, Austria, Switzerland and Finland offered to host a meeting between Putin and US President Joe Biden, who expressed concern about the military build-up.

Dagbladet: What does this conflict have to say about Russia's relations with other countries?

Jakub Godzimirsky:It is important for Putin to show himself as a tough negotiator, and he will certainly demand something from Biden. But I think Biden has stronger cards in stock, because the US has allocated its resources better. It will be difficult for Russia to maintain these tensions for a long time or to participate in an arms race with the United States, because the United States has huge funds, while Russia has much worse finances.

Russia will not have enough economic muscle to take control of all of Ukraine, and it will also have to take into account the resistance of millions of Ukrainians and the international community.

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