Ukraine Update: 22 January, 2022 (0100 Eastern Time)

Once again, the German government has made a questionable decision concerning its Ukraine stance and, in the process, raises some pointed questions about the nation’s future role within NATO. Berlin is blocking Estonia from providing military material support to Ukraine. The German government is refusing to issue export permits for weapons of German origin, citing a long-standing policy concerning arms exports. Ironically enough, the weapons Estonia is looking to export to Ukraine are former Soviet D-30 artillery pieces that were left in Germany following reunification in 1990. The artillery was then exported to Finland before the Finns sent it on to Estonia. Germany’s policy on weapons exports is not the only factor in play. The Germans have made a point not to send weapons to Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia. So, while the United States, Great Britain and a host of other NATO nations are contributing weapons to Ukraine as tensions rise with Russia.

Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Schloz is not helping to strengthen relations with the United States either. He has turned down the Biden administration’s invitation to discuss the Ukraine crisis, according to a report from Der Spiegel on Friday. Schloz’s office declined the invitation because of a ‘full schedule,’ including a trip Monday to Madrid. The chancellor’s office will apparently find time to speak with France’s leader Emmanuel Macron about the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday.

Not mentioned in Germany’s latest moves is the role the Nordstream 2 project is playing in its policymaking, though it is apparent the natural gas pipeline is a growing factor for Berlin.

Ukraine Update: 18 January, 2022 (Afternoon)

The Kiev Express is ramping up as it becomes more evident to the West that Russia is poised to launch an invasion of Ukraine at any moment. Diplomats and other politicians from NATO countries continue to arrive in Ukraine for discussions with the Zelensky government, tours of Ukrainian defensive positions in the east and firm warnings to Vladimir Putin. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be in Ukraine tomorrow before doubling back to Berlin for discussions with his German counterpart. Then on Friday, Blinken will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva. Friday’s meeting seems to be an eleventh-hour encounter that will be the last opportunity for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. Blinken will feel Lavrov out to determine how much, if any, Russian interest there is in a diplomatic approach to deescalating the situation. Last week’s talks were aimed at finding that approach but ended in failure. Thus far, Russia has been insistent that a drawdown of its forces poised along the Ukrainian border needs to be tied to NATO accepting its security demands. The alliance has been insistent that it will do no such thing.

The White House has changed its language and tone regarding Ukraine and Russia. Earlier today, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the US believes Russia is prepared to launch military operations against Ukraine at any time. An alarming statement given the more reserved public demeanor of the administration with regards to Ukraine and Russia recently. Last week, US officials raised concern about the possibility of a Russian operation to manufacture an incident which Moscow could use as a justification for military action. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan then stated that US intelligence was uncertain if Vladimir Putin had made a final decision on invading Ukraine. The new tone of voice from the White House this afternoon indicates the US intelligence assessment might’ve changed.

Ukraine Update: 19 December, 2021

Predictably, Russia’s draft security proposal has not elicited a positive response from NATO governments. The terms embedded in the document include denying NATO membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet states, as well as reducing the amount of NATO troops and weapons presently deployed in Eastern Europe. The security proposal was crafted as a counterweight to NATO’s eastern expansion and the problems it has created for Russia’s own security dilemma. While NATO member-states discuss the proposal and consider the response, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said his country’s relations with the US and NATO have approached a “dangerous point,” and that the deployment of large numbers of NATO forces so near to the border raises “unacceptable risks” to Russian security. There has also been no formal response to Russia’s call for discussions with the United States and other NATO nations on its proposal. But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that any talks “would also need to address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions, be based on core principles and documents of European security, and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners, such as Ukraine.”

Sources in the Biden administration are now speaking of a ‘four-week window’ to prevent Russia from launching large scale military action against Ukraine. Admittedly, some of these sources are privately admitting that efforts by the White House to deter Russia’s designs have not been successful. The flurry of diplomatic activity and threats of large-scale economic sanctions placed on Moscow were it to invade Ukraine, have been undermined by public admissions by the White House that no US troops will be deployed to Ukraine. Earlier this weekend, a similar public statement about British forces was made by British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace. If anything, Vladimir Putin now has solid assurances that without the possibility of US and British forces being deployed to Ukraine, no other NATO member will dare intervene militarily should Russian forces cross the border in the coming days or weeks.

China’s Influence and Prestige On The Rise In Central America

With Daniel Ortega firmly embedded as Nicaragua’s leader, it was only a matter of time before Nicaragua gravitated nearer to China’s orbit. That it finally happened comes as no surprise, but the manner in which Nicaragua acted has raised many eyebrows around Central America and the world. In short, Nicaragua ended its long-running diplomatic and business relationships with Taiwan. Managua wasted little time in formally established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China next. Shortly thereafter, the first batch of Chinese-donated COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Nicaragua. Over 1 million doses have been promised by Beijing, seemingly a handsome payment for Ortega having chosen China over Taiwan.

“The People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing all of China and Taiwan is an undoubted part of the Chinese territory,” Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said in a televised announcement from capital city Managua last week. Nicaragua is not the first nation in Central America to sever ties with Taiwan in recent years. El Salvador and the Dominican Republic announced they would no longer recognize Taiwan. In the aftermath of Nicaragua’s decision, Honduras is now taking a hard look at the prospect of jumping ship as well.

Nicaragua’s decision is a double victory for Beijing. Taiwan’s diplomatic influence has been reduced and the Chinese beachhead in the Western Hemisphere expands. Outside of Cuba and Venezuela, which are both allies of Beijing, China is moving to gain favor and influence in other Central American countries. The Biden administration has been very slow in countering Chinese moves in America’s backyard. It should regard Nicaragua’s actions as a wake-up call at the very least. The fact that China is actively moving to minimize Taiwan’s circle of friendly nation-states takes the appearance of being a possible precursor to military action in the near future. In the bigger picture however, the Chinese inroads being made in Central America are the seeds of a challenge to US dominance in the Western Hemisphere at down the line.

Unfortunately, Washington doesn’t exactly see it this way. As a result, China’s inroads will expand unchallenged south of the border for some time.

Ethiopia Unraveling

Several nations are ordering their non-essential embassy staff members and dependents out of Ethiopia as the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) move closer to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The United States has joined Israel, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark in removing non-essential personnel from Ethiopia. The order was given on Friday and the US State Department is also urging all US nationals to leave the country too. A number of other rebel groups have joined the TPLF, forming an anti-government alliance that looks to unseat Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from power one year after he launched the offensive in Tigray that has ultimately led to this point. In November 2020 there were very few people who could even entertain the notion that Addis Ababa would be under TPLF threat twelve months later.

The government has declared a state of emergency that will allow conscription of any military-aged civilian with weapons. Veterans are also being asked to reenlist in the military. In Addis Ababa, police are searching houses to uncover potential Tigrayans who are connected, or sympathetic to the TPLF. How much good these measures will do with the enemy fast approaching the city remains to be seen.

Beyond Ethiopia’s borders there have been a number of diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing the conflict to an end. The Biden administration’s press for negotiations to end the fighting fell upon deaf ears, and so have the selective sanctions placed on some Ethiopian officials by the US government. The reluctance of both sides to turn to diplomacy has derailed efforts by the African Union to mediate an end to the fighting and bring about a cease-fire. Predictably, United Nation Security Council calls for on all parties to refrain “from inflammatory hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness” are being ignored. The Security Council is also concerned with how this conflict will affect the stability of the region. The Horn of Africa has long been a hotbed of volatility. The prospect of the fighting leading to a division of Ethiopia similar to Yugoslavia in the early 1990s is beginning to make diplomats around the world uneasy.