Putting military pressure on Ukraine could have seemed to the Russian leadership to be the most practical way to assert Moscow’s central role in international affairs. The standard working assumption in the Kremlin is that facing a risk of violent conflict, the disunited West would become attentive to Russian grievances and demands and opt for a compromise.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on April 13 that Moscow is sending 15 naval vessels from its Caspian Flotilla to waters off Ukraine to take part in military exercises there. Earlier, Russian and Ukrainian media had reported stories about a smaller number. Although the vessels must pass through a 100-kilometer-long canal with more than 13 locks, they will likely be able to arrive before other ships, sent from Russia’s Baltic Fleet, make it to the Black Sea basin.
The current escalation of tensions around eastern Ukraine is dangerous and may appear untimely and inopportune while Europe and Russia seek to focus on managing the latest COVID-19 pandemic wave as well as addressing its accumulating economic and social consequences. Nevertheless, a deliberate political choice is dictating the uptick in violence in the Donbas war zone, raising the risk of renewed major military conflict.
Train convoys of heavy Russian military equipment, seen on multiple videos on social media, reportedly shipping from Siberia to the border regions of Ukraine. The Kerch Strait Bridge to the occupied Crimean Peninsula shut down briefly, apparently for a major shipment of weaponry.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron conferred, on March 30, by video-conference on multiple international issues, including the intensification of the “internal conflict in Ukraine” (according to Mr. Putin) or “conflict in Ukraine” (Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron, though still not naming Russia).
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Decree No. 201 came into effect on March 20, 2021. The executive edict adds Crimea and Sevastopol to “the list of Russia’s border territories where foreign citizens, stateless persons and foreign legal entities cannot own land.” As such, non-Russians, including Ukrainian citizens who still reside in occupied Crimea but who refused to obtain a Russian passport, can now be stripped of their property.
The Kremlin’s representative to negotiations over Russia’s war in Ukraine’s east, Dmitry Kozak, is undoubtedly the source of the outpouring of secret documents to the Russian daily Kommersant (March 24), revealing the negotiating positions of the parties to the Normandy process (Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine).
The resonance in Russia from a short fragment of United States President Joseph Biden’s ABC News interview last Wednesday (March 17) has been extraordinarily loud – and the bilateral consequences could be far greater than just the Russian ambassador being recalled to Moscow for consultations (see EDM, March 18).
Ukraine’s efforts to politically and military integrate with the West greatly intensified after Russia’s 2014 absorption of Crimea, while the subsequent and ongoing war in Donbas against combined Russian-proxy army units emphasized the need for Ukraine’s armed forces to reduce their dependence on Soviet-era doctrine and weaponry as much as possible.
Following the latest round of consultations of political advisors within the so-called Normandy format (Ukraine, Russia, France, Germany), Andriy Yermak, the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, stated in a letter that Kyiv will not accept any of the proposals regarding the resolution of the Donbas conflict that were made by his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Kozak (Ukrainska Pravda, March 21).