Western Policymakers Weigh Options for Ukraine, Responses to Russian Aggression 

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Western officials say the build-up of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine, and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in 2014, is prompting an intense debate between US and European policymakers about how to respond.

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They are divided over why Russian President Vladimir Putin is gathering troops. They are wrestling with their options to prevent any dramatic military moves on Ukraine, and separately, to answer whether Putin orders his forces to seize more Ukrainian territory, most likely. That is Mariupol and its surroundings on the shores of the Azov Sea.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last week cautioned Moscow against “any further provocation or aggressive action” as US officials warned Russia could prepare for a winter offensive in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia has gathered about 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.

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Washington has warned European allies that the Kremlin may “attempt a recap” in 2014, when it took control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and Russia-backed separatists seized a large part of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine bordering Russia. confiscated.

charges against Kiev

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Kremlin officials say Russia is unprepared to invade Ukraine and accuse Ukrainians of mobilizing military units along their shared border.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Monday: “Kiev is building its own army. Kiev is being helped to build its own army. Supplied a significant number of weapons, including modern high-tech weapons, to Kiev. is going.”

Some former US diplomats and officials believe that Washington and its European allies should be prepared to supply Ukraine with more high-tech weapons, and sooner than later. They see the Kremlin’s concern over the supply of Western high-tech weapons as the best policy option to prevent any Kremlin misadventures.

US and European policymakers must answer the question of whether they are “going to help Ukraine with the weapons and training it needs to defend itself,” said Daniel Fried, a former US diplomat who Served as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. and was the US ambassador to Poland from 1997 to 2000.

FILE – A Ukrainian soldier stands near an armored vehicle, with an American flag, in Shayrokin, eastern Ukraine, April 15, 2015.

Fried, now an analyst at the Atlantic Council, a New York-based research group, ticks off a list of equipment that could be sent, including more javelin anti-tank missiles, air defense and electronic warfare systems, artillery pieces and radar. Are included.

“Things like that,” he said. “The Ukrainians know how to use them. And I think the equipment needs to be delivered right now to stop the Russians or in the pipelines so that the Russians know it can arrive very quickly.”

He said his priority would be to have the equipment arrive sooner rather than later.

‘Interesting lesson’

“If you look at the military history of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, the Georgians gave a lot of trouble to the Russians when they used Israeli weapons bought by Tbilisi,” he told Granthshala. “The Russians had trouble countering them, and their casualties were significant.

“The Georgians didn’t have enough Israeli weapons. They were just overwhelmed. But it was an interesting lesson. The Russians are used to their weapons. They may find it very difficult to deal with American weapons.”

The Biden administration has sent more weapons to Ukraine, but less than it can send. Two former US Coast Guard patrol boats arrived on Saturday. And Ukrainians received a large consignment of American ammunition earlier this year, including some Javelin anti-tank missiles, which drew criticism from Moscow.

Officials say that the administration is considering sending more.

Republican lawmakers have urged a significant step up in US military support, but some US and European policymakers are concerned and taking precautions.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sevastopol, Crimea, November 4, 2021.

FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sevastopol, Crimea, November 4, 2021.

He fears that supplying more weapons could backfire, escalating tensions and forcing Putin into a full-blown confrontation when he just wanted to taunt. Others fear an upbeat response from Western risks to Putin, who may see it as a sign that Washington and Western European capitals will do nothing but clap their hands if he is more aggressive.

A European diplomat based in Brussels told Granthshala on condition of anonymity: “While we call on Putin to be more transparent, we are trying to convey to the Russians that unpredictability can lead to unintentional miscalculations.” Increases chances.”

“We are left with a dilemma: logically, Moscow can afford the economic cost of an incursion, and there seems to be no popular support in Russia for military action, and a high casualty toll would be badly reduced.” . But you could have said the same things in 2008 and 2014. Some predicted war with Georgia or moves on Ukraine,” he said.

“This makes decision-making on our policy choices particularly challenging.”

extension of restrictions

In addition to what to do to stop Russia, Western policymakers are also grappling with how to respond if Moscow takes aggressive action.

Some analysts argue that the West has little room to add new sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of the seizure of Crimea and others imposed after the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whom the West blames on the Kremlin. Was. But former ambassador Fried said he felt there was “significant room for increasing sanctions, especially in the financial sector.”

“We can go after Russian banks. We can take Russia’s metal and mining industries for granted,” he said.

“Russian sanctions that are currently in effect, while costly to the Russian economy, are well below the level that can be imposed,” Fried said. “While some in Europe and the United States have argued that there is little room to pursue these measures, there is still plenty of room to actually do so.” Their list would include Russian state-owned banks such as VTB and Gazprombank, especially their investment arms. Before this no bank has got approval.

FILE - The logo of Russia's energy giant Gazprom is pictured at one of its gasoline stations in Moscow on April 16, 2021.

FILE – The logo of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom is pictured at one of its gasoline stations in Moscow on April 16, 2021.

Financing of subsidiaries and capital markets of energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft could also be blocked. Russia’s mining and metals sector, which has remained largely untouched by current sanctions, could also be affected. Fried and others uncovered the steel company Average, controlled by aristocrat Roman Abramovich, and Alrosa, a state-controlled diamond concern.

On Monday, Russia’s stock market saw its biggest sell-off since August, falling 3.58%. Traders and market analysts cited geopolitical risks as one of the major factors plaguing investors.

The prospect of extended restrictions in some European quarters has also prompted alarm. Objections include the effect it would have on ordinary Russians. The sanctions would also not be cost-free for Europeans. The Kremlin could retaliate by cutting or drastically reducing the supply of natural gas to Europe, which is already grappling with an unprecedented energy squeeze.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson focused on that concern last week, rebuking Germany and others dependent on Russian energy supplies in a speech in London, telling them to stop “maintaining Russian hydrocarbons”. needed. In a warning to European countries heavily dependent on Russian gas, he suggested that Putin might actually be serious about restricting supplies from pipelines running through Eastern Europe if the West sought to protect Ukraine. Is.

“We hope our friends can recognize that a choice is coming soon between mainlining more and more Russian hydrocarbons in huge new pipelines and sticking to Ukraine and being the champion for peace and stability, let me call it Let’s keep it that way,” he said. speech.

What will the West do?

How much appetite European countries will have for a strong response in the event of a Russian incursion is an important question for policymakers and independent analysts. Putin and the Kremlin are anticipating European weakness. “It could play into Putin’s calculations,” said Benjamin Haddad, senior director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council. “Putin may think it is the right time to act, Germany is going through a political transition and France is heading towards elections.

“But I think that would be a wrong guess.”

Haddad said he hoped the new centre-left German government, led by a Social Democrat, Olaf Scholz, “wants to show that it can be a good transatlantic partner.” And with regard to France, he said President Emmanuel Macron “spoke to Putin last week about Ukraine, and the message was very clear on French support for Ukrainian territorial integrity.”

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