Hostilities continue to rise in Eastern Europe as Moscow and Kyiv point fingers at each other. This week’s rise in violence further undermines a ceasefire agreement brokered last July. Fighting continues escalating in eastern Ukraine as reports of a military buildup in Crimea and on the Russian side of the border continue. Ukraine and Russia have been locked in conflict since unmarked Russian forces rolled into Crimea in 2014. The Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern region of Donbas, following the Crimean annexation and change of Ukrainian government.
Putin Tells Ukraine to Calm Down
According to the United Nations, the conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives since the annexation. On March 26, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed by Russian shelling, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stating 20 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the first of the year. After initially denying and subsequently admitting ordering the operation in 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s maintains that Ukrainian officials need not fear the movement of Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Further, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday, “The Russian Federation transfer of Armed Forces on its soil should not concern anyone and poses no threat.”
Ukraine Says Actions Speak Louder Than Words
However, Ukrainian officials suggest Russian forces amassing on the border could foreshadow a major assault. “Moscow must stop fueling the military frenzy and immediately and explicitly confirm its commitment to a diplomatic settlement and ceasefire,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Thursdayk, April 1.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former USAREUR (U.S. Army in Europe) Commanding General, currently with the Center for European Policy Analysis, stated in an interview with The World on PRI Thursday that the Ukrainians are concerned Germany and France have not done enough to pressure the Kremlin to follow international law. “Ukrainians are wondering, can they really count on European friends to help?”
NATO Conducts Joint Military Drills
Ukrainian armed forces are planning for joint military drills with NATO troops to begin in a few months. This statement came just one day after the Kremlin’s announcement that any deployment of NATO troops to Ukraine would lead to further tensions and force Moscow to take extra measures to ensure its own security.
On April 1, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, “We’re absolutely concerned by recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions…we are aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s borders. We are discussing …. with NATO allies.”
Price blames Russia for the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers last week, falling short of making explicit criticism of Russia’s reported troop buildup within Russian borders, while signaling Washington’s displeasure. “What we would object to are aggressive actions — actions that have an intent of intimidating, of threatening, our partner in Ukraine,” he said.
In the PRI interview, Hodges stated that he believes this situation “is a test of the new Biden administration to see if the Biden administration is serious about Ukrainian sovereignty.” Further, Hodges says that we technically have NATO Troops on the ground in western Ukraine already in Yavoriv training area, near the city of Lviv. However, he continues, “We would do everything we could, first to try and support Ukrainian sovereignty, short of deploying troops there.”
Germany and France Step in the Middle of the Argument
Concurrently, Germany and France have played a mediating role in Russia-Ukraine tensions as members of the so-called Normandy Format. They have called on both sides to exercise restraint during repeated violations of a ceasefire brokered last July. On Saturday, Germany and France released a joint statement expressing concerns over the increasing ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, amid reports of a Russian military buildup along the border. The statement reaffirmed their “support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” On April 4, Deutsche Welle stated the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has recorded hundreds of ceasefire violations in the past few days, including 493 on March 26 alone.
Ukraine Bringing Diplomats Together
The buildup has promoted a meeting of diplomats from across NATO. A NATO official said, “Allies shared their concerns about Russia’s recent large-scale military activities in and around Ukraine,” and a senior U.S. State Department official said on Friday, the United States and European allies are “discussing concerns” about Russia’s reported military buildup on the Ukrainian border.
Hodges stated, “We continue to allow ourselves to be surprised that the Russians would actually use force against a European country. And we should stop being surprised that they only respect strength. We’ve got to push back. That’s why even though some people wet themselves when President Biden said, yes, of course, Putin’s a killer, that’s exactly what needs to be done. And of course, you got to back that up.”
With the Eastern Europe on high alert, is Putin about to launch a new offensive in Ukraine?