Ukraine Update 22 February (1100 EST)

Whatever hope there was attached to last night’s emergency meeting of the UN Security Council  rapidly evaporated as the meeting went on. It was a typical security council meeting punctuated by uniform condemnation of Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government had requested the meeting yesterday after Russia announced its recognition of the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine that are controlled by pro-Russian separatists.  It was a purely symbolic gesture though. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and holds veto power, guaranteeing no resolution aimed at condemnation of Russia’s actions has even a remote chance of seeing the light of day.

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Europe is taking the lead on applying sanctions to Russia for its actions yesterday. Germany has cast aside its reluctance of past weeks and suspended the certification process of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline while Great Britain has targeted five Russian banks for its first round of sanctions. France has not yet taken action, however, the threat of “targeted sanctions” was introduced by Paris minus specifics. The French government has a good amount of egg on its face after working relentlessly to set up a summit between US and Russian leaders this past weekend, only to see it turn to dust following Russia’s recognition of the breakaway republics yesterday. Perhaps this slap to the face will teach French leadership a lesson about trusting Vladimir Putin.

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Despite the recognition of the LPR and DPR’s independence, the fact remains that two-thirds of the territory in both breakaway republics is controlled by the Ukrainian military…albeit tacitly in some instances. Russian ‘peacekeeping forces’ are reportedly advancing towards Mariupol, a vital port that sits in Ukrainian controlled territory. There has been contact between government forces and separatists and/or Russian peacekeepers at the Novoazovsk border crossing east of Mariupol. The port city is important to both Ukraine and Russia for a variety of reasons. It’s certainly worth discussing a bit at length later on in the day.

Biden Arrives In Europe

US President Joe Biden has arrived in Europe today, kicking off the first overseas trip of his presidency. Before leaving, the ever-so-eloquent chief executive told reporters the goals for his trip to Europe will be “strengthening the alliance, making it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight.” Upon his arrival in Great Britain, Biden addressed US airmen at RAF Mildenhall and spoke further on the intended purpose of his European trip. Specifically with regards to Russia and his scheduled meeting with Vladimir Putin on 16 June in Geneva.

Before Geneva comes the G7 summit in Cornwall, England which will take place this coming weekend. The stated goal of the Biden administration has been to use the summit as a launching point to mend relations with European allies and roll back the rhetoric and actions of the Trump presidency that allegedly placed undue pressure on the US relationship with Europe. Climate change, creating a unified front in the face of China’s growing influence around the world, and the coming withdrawal of US and European troops from Afghanistan. The Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline will almost certainly come up in discussions. The US remains opposed to the pipeline in spite of Germany’s support for it. There is concern in Washington that the heavy German involvement in Nord Stream 2 can be used by Russia to drive a wedge into NATO in the event of a future crisis.

Between the G7 summit and Geneva, Biden will spend some time in Brussels at NATO headquarters. China and Russia will be discussed in deeper detail there, and the president is expected to press America’s NATO partners to contribute more to the common defense. This is hardly a new request and it is one that Biden’s predecessor addressed effectively. It will be interesting to see how NATO reacts to the new president and his somewhat recycled concepts and notions about NATO’s role in the future.