Can the West prevent Russia from invading Ukraine? Here’s what you need to know.

It’s like a scene from the Cold War.

An unpredictable Russian president is dispatching thousands of troops on the border of a neighboring country, Ukraine. Threat of invasion. A bloody conflict may arise between East and West.

But what seems like a dangerous episode from a bygone era will become the focus of global diplomacy this week, when the United States, NATO allies and Russia meet for talks. in Geneva, Vienna and Brussels to prevent further Russian incursions into Ukraine.

That potential military flare-up threatens to destabilize an already volatile post-Soviet region, which came out last week. Popular uprising in Kazakhstan. It would also have serious consequences for the security architecture that governs Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago.

In a move that has exacerbated already strained relations between Washington and the Kremlin, Russia mobilized more than 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine. The United States has released intelligence showing that Russia has a war plan that depicts an invasion force of 175,000 troops that the Ukrainian military, despite equipment and training provided by the United States, there will be very little chance of stopping.

On Friday, NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, warned that “the risk of conflict is real.”

Russia made a extensive list of needs: NATO commits to halt further eastward expansion and withdraw troops from NATO members bordering Russia; that Ukraine stops deploying NATO weapons; and Ukraine made concessions to Russia’s terms to settle the war in the east of the country.

Essentially, Mr. Putin is seeking to redraw Europe’s post-Cold War boundaries, establish a vast, Russian-dominated security zone and pull Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit by force, if necessary.

In the event of an invasion, the United States and its allies have threatened to impose a range of sanctions that will go beyond those imposed in 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Putin warned that the imposition of new sanctions could lead to a “complete rupture” in relations with Washington.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have been simmering since 2014. That was when Ukraine ousted a pro-Russian president and Russian troops flooded Ukrainian territory, annexation of Crimea and cheer a rebellion of the separatists in eastern Ukraine. A continuous ceasefire has been reached in 2015, but peace has been elusive in the midst of a fierce war that has killed more than 13,000 soldiers and civilians.

The Kremlin’s stance toward its neighbor has grown increasingly tough, as Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly asserts that Ukraine is essentially part of Russia, culturally and historically. Concern was raised in late October, when Ukraine uses armed drones attacked a howitzer operated by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia called the attack an act of destabilization, a violation of the truce.

Now 69 years old and entering the twilight of his political career, Putin is determined to burn through his legacy and repair what he has long considered the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century: the disintegration. of the former Soviet Union.

Asserting Moscow’s authority over Ukraine, a country of 44 million people formerly part of the Soviet bloc and sharing a 1,200-mile border with Russia, is part of his aim to restore what he sees is Russia’s legitimate place among the world’s great powers, along with the United States and China.

Putin increasingly describes NATO’s eastward expansion as an existential threat to his country, and asserted that Moscow’s military build-up was a response to Ukraine’s strengthening ties with the alliance. He seems intent on turning back the clock 30 years, right before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The timing of Russia’s troop mobilization is perhaps not coincidental. Mr. Putin is looking to energize nationalist support at home amid the raging pandemic and a struggling economy. Last year, opposition groups organized some of the biggest anti-Putin rallies in years.

But while some analysts portray Putin as a cunning chess player determined to manipulate the West, his latest gamble could backfire. NATO can strengthen its military presence in member states bordering Russia, such as the Baltics. And an invasion that would entail sanctions could dent his support in a country tired of resource-draining foreign adventures many would like to see spent at home. .

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Moscow’s belligerent posture has fueled nationalist passions, with self-defense militia prepare for a protracted guerrilla campaign in the event of a Russian occupation. And if Putin’s aim is to reassert Russia’s sphere of influence, the invasion of Ukraine will further destabilize the post-Soviet region, where Russian troops are helping restore order in Kazakhstan and Belarus still smoldering after the uprising in 2020.

In early December, President Biden made it clear that his administration is not considering sending troops to Ukraine, because, among other reasons, Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance and is not living up to its commitments. collective defense.

Instead, Mr. Biden said he would strengthen the US military presence in NATO countries bordering Russia. And, when it came to Mr. Putin, he promised that there would be “economic consequences that he has never seen”. US officials have hinted that Washington may be turning to its China playbook – potentially establish sanctions that could deprive the Russians of their beloved next-generation Russians of phones, laptops and other cutting-edge gadgets, as well as the military, from cutting-edge equipment. There is also the option of cutting Russia off from the international banking system, although analysts say that is unlikely.

A growing conflict in Ukraine will test the Biden administration’s resolution as the US works to restore confidence in US global leadership in the wake of recent events. messy retreat from Afghanistan and the cessation of foreign engagement under President Donald J. Trump.

The way the United States handles Russia and Ukraine will affect its ongoing efforts to rebuild fractured relations with NATO allies after Trump’s presidency, during which Mr. League “Obsolete” referred to as member states dead body and at first refuse to explicitly confirm Basic principles of common defense of NATO.

An escalating crisis in Ukraine also threatens to depend on recent efforts by the United States and NATO to shift the alliance’s attention to the security challenge posed by China, and would push the country back into the world. return to its traditional role of defending Europe and, by extension, North America.

NATO’s response Facing Russia’s attempt to neutralize the alliance will also help shape its geopolitical power for years to come.

The question for Europe is whether it can allow Putin to upgrade the security architecture that has maintained peace on the continent since World War Two. The conflict also shows the weakness of the European Union and its failure as a foreign policy force in international relations.

The European Union has no seat in most of these negotiations, which are, after all, about European security, and it is looking to get more involved.

With the passing of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the east, speaks fluent Russian and enjoys a good working relationship with Putin, Europe has lost an invaluable interlocutor to Moscow. Her successor, Prime Minister Olaf Scholz, is little known in foreign affairs, and is the head of a complex coalition that is more critical of Russia than his own Social Democrats.

Europe has important trade relations with Russia and will lose more than the US from sanctions imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It also depends on Russian gas supplies, a weakness Putin has exploited in past disputes.

Steven Erlanger in Brussels contributed reporting.

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