Ukraine Update 21 February, 2022 (3 PM EST): Putin Lays His Cards Out

Vladimir Putin has announced his intention to formally recognize the independence of Donetsk & Luhansk, the breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine now controlled by pro-Russian separatists. In an address this afternoon, Putin did not discuss the Luhansk People’s Republic/Donetsk People’s Republic at length. Instead, he took the opportunity to lay the groundwork to justify a Russian invasion of Ukraine, most likely in the coming days. The speech was peppered with historical grievances and explanations of why Ukraine is not a sovereign nation-state.

Putin’s speech is still being digested at this hour, but the statement released by the Kremlin on recognizing independence of the self-declared republics in eastern Ukraine elicited a swift response from European leaders. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed such a move will “plainly be in breach of international law.” Germany and France have also condemned Putin’s apparent intentions.

There is much happening across Europe, Ukraine and Russia right now and I was caught in transit when all of these events started to happen. I’ll post a more thorough update between 5 and 6 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Ukraine Update 13 April, 2021: Discussions And Threats

13 April has been a day of dialogue, discussion and warnings between the United States and Russia over the situation in eastern Ukraine, as well as the deployment of US warships to the Black Sea.

President Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone today and Ukraine was one of the topics discussed. Arms control and security issues dominated the call, predicably enough. Biden called on Putin to deescalate the tensions relating to the Russian troop buildup along its border with Ukraine. The US president also proposed a US-Russia summit meeting be held in a third country “in the coming months to discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia,” according to the White House press release. In short, Biden did not take the opportunity to discuss the Ukraine crisis at length or warn Putin against moving on Ukraine. A missed opportunity on the part of Biden and the White House.

Meanwhile, around the same time, a Russian official was labeling the United States as an adversary of Russia. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also warned the US to keep its warships away from the Crimea ‘for their own good.’ He called the deployment of US Navy ships into the Black Sea a provocation intended to test Russian nerves. “We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying.

He was not the only member of the Russian government to speak today. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated the Russian military buildup is a response to threats from NATO. The military exercise now currently underway near the Ukrainian border is part of a series of readiness drills and will continue for two weeks. Shoigu made the comments during a visit to a naval base at Gadzhiyevo, on the Kola Peninsula.

Russia-Ukraine Tensions Renewed

Surreptitiously, tensions between Russia and Ukraine has been rising in recent weeks. While the rest of the world’s attention has been transfixed elsewhere, Kiev and Moscow appear to be gravitating towards another standoff at the very least. Or, perhaps the beginning of a new phase of the War in Donbass which is now threatening to reignite after an extended period of dormancy.

Last month, senior Ukrainian military leaders publicly expressed concern that Russia’s moves in Donbass were a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to NATO. Last week four Ukrainian troops were killed by artillery strikes fired by Russian forces. Then, earlier this week, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Ukraine, Ruslan Khomchak warned that a steady buildup of Russian forces is taking place in close proximity to the border.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has suddenly become chatty on the topic of eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to his German and French counterparts on Tuesday and discussed the escalating tensions with Ukraine. Putin views it as Kiev’s refusal to honor ceasefire guidelines agreed to last July. Yesterday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov expressed concern about the tense situation in that area and expressed concerns that Kiev might be looking to restart the conflict. “We express concern over the growing tension and express concern that one way or another the Ukrainian side could take provocative actions that would lead to war. We really don’t want to see that.”

Russia’s words reinforce a growing feeling that the Moscow is probing the resolve of the West, perhaps in preparation for a move in the near future. For the first time in years, Vladimir Putin and his government are facing substantial domestic issues. Upcoming legislative elections later this year and the Alexey Navalny situation continue to influence the Kremlin’s thinking. Rekindling the conflict in eastern Ukraine and causing an escalation that ultimately leads to Russian gains would go a long way towards placating nationalist voters and ensuring a wide victory at the polls in September.

There are also a host of other factors to be considered. However, at the moment anxiety is rising over the eastern Ukraine as the prospect of renewed fighting there has sudden become very real once again.

Saturday 15 August 2020 Belarus Update: Lukashenko Turns To Moscow?

The pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is not easing. Nearly one week after claiming a landslide victory in the 9 August presidential election, protests continue around Belarus and despite the efforts of the government, they are increasing in size, and attitude. Today thousands of protesters rallied outside of the state television studio in Minsk and demanded full coverage of the protests against the disputed election, and the demonstrations that followed. State television did not broadcast video of the demonstrations and violence. Around Minsk other protests also took place today including one at the metro station where a protester died last Monday. The cause of death remains unclear. Government officials claim an explosive device went off in his hands, but opposition leaders have disputed the claim.

With his hold on power becoming tenuous, Lukashenko is turning to Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin for help. The two leaders spoke today with Lukashenko claiming he secured a pledge from Russia to provide comprehensive security assistance to Belarus if needed. The Russian government has not mentioned a pledge but it is not outside the realm of possibility. Even though relations between Russia and Belarus have become strained lately, Moscow continues to regard the nation as vital to Russia’s interests and security. Much in the same light it once regarded Ukraine, the Kremlin views Belarus as a buffer against the West. As was the case with Ukraine, the Kremlin would view the collapse of a friendly government in Belarus to be a security threat to all of Russia, and act accordingly.

Author’s Note: There is a lot going on around the world this weekend and as a result, many areas to cover. For today through Monday I’m going to concentrate on brief updates unless a major event occurs. At the start of the week I’ll look around and decide which area takes precedence and go from there. Hope everyone’s having a good weekend. – Mike

Monday 19 March, 2018 Update: Putin Secures Re-Election

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Vladimir Putin sailed to victory in Russia’s presidential election on Sunday. He secured a fourth term in office with 77% of the vote. The result was hardly a surprise. Putin’s grip on power in Russia is ironclad and he faced no serious challengers in the campaign. The election was hardly fair, by Western standards, and has been described by some people as a sham. Even Edward Snowden was critical of the election results in his adopted homeland. It will be interesting to see how the Kremlin reacts to his criticism.

As tradition dictates, many world leaders have sent formal congratulations, and spoke of desires to work together with Moscow on common issues. Behind the polite façade of diplospeak, there is less of a consensus about Putin and future relations with Russia. In Europe, many leaders and political parties are wary of Russia’s ambitions, and view Putin as a growing threat. Nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, or under the thumb of Moscow during the Cold War make up the bulk of this group. Other European nations, mainly EU member-states in Central and Western Europe, are less critical. From Brussels to Berlin the priority has been to repair relations between Russia and the West. Germany has led the repair effort in recent years, though Angela Merkel has little to show for it. EU sanctions against Russia remain in place but they have not persuaded Putin to cooperate on the Ukrainian issue or any of the other matters simmering between Russia and the West.

The current diplomatic crisis between Russia and the United Kingdom over the use of a nerve agent against a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil will affect relations between Europe and Russia in one form or another. The EU is standing beside Britain in calls for Russia to disclose its development of Novichok, the agent used. The United States joined the leaders of France, Great Britain, and Germany in condemning the use of a nerve agent on British soil, and agreeing Russia was the party responsible for the attack. London expelled 23 Russian diplomats and Moscow mirrored the move a short time afterward, expelling 23 British diplomats from Russia. Tensions remain high, with Russia denying it had anything to do with the attack.

With the election behind him now, Putin might be looking to use the crisis with England to his advantage. Russia could use a victory of some type. In Syria, and Russia it appears to be mired in military and diplomatic stalemate, with no change in sight. It’s unclear exactly how Putin can turn the current issue to his advantage, but if anyone can bring it about, it’s him.