Can Russia afford its military

Russia's march on the border with Ukraine : Germany cannot bring itself to react

At the weekend, German politicians seemed to react surprisingly indifferently to the alarming news of the Russian military march on the northern and eastern borders of Ukraine, because only the Foreign Office, together with the French Foreign Ministry, issued a warning to Russia and Ukraine . But perhaps it was only the Easter break that prevented harsh public judgments and warnings to the government in Moscow.

In any case, on Tuesday representatives of the grand coalition made it clear that Russia is threatening to cross red lines again in their eyes. However, unlike politicians from the Greens and the FDP, they did not threaten to take concrete countermeasures in the event of further escalation.

Because it still seems unclear whether it is about threatening gestures, a test of the executive of the new US President Joe Biden or the preparation of new land gains. In this open situation, Russia expert Janis Kluge from the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) warns that joint “credible threats of sanctions” from Washington, Paris and Berlin are necessary.

In view of reports of Russian troop deployments, there is currently growing international concern that the seven-year conflict between Russia and Ukraine could escalate again. For about seven years, parts of the Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk along the Russian border have been controlled by rebels supported by Russia. According to UN estimates, more than 13,000 people were killed as a result of the fighting against government troops.

"Putin's saber-rattling is highly dangerous"

The foreign policy spokesman for the Union faction, Jürgen Hardt (CDU), called the reports "extremely alarming" and declared: "Putin's military saber rattle is highly dangerous." This would not only sow additional instability in Europe, but also give the Kremlin-directed separatists in Donbass "Additional protection against not adhering to the Minsk agreements".

The CDU politician did not threaten concrete countermeasures, but warned: "Putin must know that the transatlantic partners are firmly on the side of Ukraine." It was right that the NATO Council should also deal with the situation on the Ukraine border because it is about the security and stability of Europe. Hardt continues: "A renewed aggression by Russia against Ukraine would shake the foundations of the European security order."

"We shouldn't allow ourselves to be provoked," says the SPD man

Nils Schmid, foreign policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, said the Russian troop movements were irresponsible and contributed to a dangerous escalation of the situation. "There is a lot to suggest that this is both a 'show of force' against Ukraine and a 'test' against the new US administration and the unity of the international community," he said.

Russia could also want to undermine the authority of the Ukrainian President Zelensky. "In addition, people in Moscow are frustrated about the lack of political success in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and are trying to lend stronger emphasis to their own demands with the rattle of military sabers, possibly also to induce Ukraine to take rash actions."

Schmid continues: “We should clearly show our solidarity with Ukraine, but at the same time not allow ourselves to be provoked and avoid unnecessary alarmism. This also applies to the Ukrainian leadership. Both sides are now called upon to refrain from any measures that are driving the escalation spiral. "

FDP foreign politician Bijan Djir-Sarai said that the procedure "clearly shows that Putin has no interest in confidence-building measures". The liberal politician urged Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) to speak to his Russian counterpart Lavrov urgently and to make it clear that “a further escalation will not remain without consequences”.

According to Djir-Sarai, however, the possibilities for action for Europeans are not great: “The levers that the European Union holds in its hands are indeed very few or the few that are available are used too slowly and hesitantly,” he explained: “Rhetoric European policy on Russia currently dominates in the form of empty words - Putin is no longer impressed by that. ”Above all, there is still room for maneuver in the case of a moratorium on the Nord Stream II gas pipeline and the expansion and intensification of personal sanctions.

The Greens called for a joint intervention by Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. "It does not matter whether the Kremlin wants to relocate the front or test Biden. What matters is that the Russian armed forces escalate the situation on the territory of a neighboring country," said foreign politician Omid Nouripour to the Tagesspiegel: "If Merkel and Macron don't vote quickly rise in favor of Ukraine, they are not only sinning against international law, which has already been broken several times, but also weakening their own negotiating position in Normandy format, the political dialogue forum for the conflict. "The federal government must now" quickly deal with the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project the Green politician demanded: "Anything else would be an invitation from Russia to continue its aggressive course."

In contrast to the FDP and the Greens, the Left Party directed its warnings primarily to Ukraine and not to Russia. "Ukraine's threats with regard to Crimea, Kiev's ignoring the Minsk Agreement and the military concentration in the region are extremely worrying," said left-wing parliamentary deputy Sevim Dagdelen. She added: "It is an indictment that the federal government the Ukrainian President's actions against unpleasant television stations and the continued attacks against minority rights have simply been concealed. "The Federal Government must now do everything to prevent the situation from escalating further and advocate a mutual withdrawal of troops and compliance with the Minsk Agreement The arming of Ukraine with combat drones by NATO partner Erdogan must be clearly condemned by Berlin.

Does Moscow need a cover for further annexations?

SWP's Russia expert Kluge believes that a clear and rapid signal from the West is necessary in view of a possible further escalation of the situation. The current Russian troop relocation is "worrying," he told this newspaper. Russia is building up a huge military threat and is putting Ukraine under pressure. At the same time, the ground is being prepared for a possible military operation in Russia, as allegations are being made against Ukraine on Russian state television that could justify military intervention. “Under the guise of a 'peacekeeping mission', the Russian military could establish itself permanently in eastern Ukraine,” warned the expert.

It is still unclear whether the threatening gesture will remain. “In the Kremlin, too, no final decision has yet been made. It is therefore important that Germany, France and the USA immediately make it clear to Moscow what the consequences of military intervention would be, "explained Kluge:" Demonstrative consultations between the EU and the USA on possible further sanctions against Russia would be an option. "

Apparently with a view to the declarations of the German and French foreign ministries as well as from the grand coalition, the Russia expert said: "Appeals to all sides for de-escalation, on the other hand, tend to signal to Moscow that the West will stay out of a possible conflict."

The Russian government calculates - a price could be too high for it

The policy of sanctioning the annexation of Crimea by the EU and the USA had been successful, said Kluge. With the economic sanctions, both had shown "that they will defend their interests against Russia, even if it has a price." For Russia, possible new sanctions have become an important part of the foreign policy calculation since 2014.

It is "almost impossible to use sanctions to force Russia to take a step back," said the SWP employee: "The chances of preventing Russian intervention in Ukraine in advance with a credible threat of sanctions are much better. Therefore, the West should not only react when the die has been cast in Moscow. "

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg assured Ukraine of solidarity in the worsening conflict with Russia, but did not offer any military support. NATO emphatically supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and remains committed to the close partnership.

In the past few weeks, there have been repeated fatal incidents in eastern Ukraine despite an agreed ceasefire. Since the beginning of the year alone, at least 24 government soldiers have died. The separatists recently spoke of around 23 people killed in their area.

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Intervention by NATO in the conflict is ruled out, as Ukraine is not one of the alliance members. However, it is conceivable that individual alliance members such as the USA could provide support in the event of a renewed escalation. US President Joe Biden recently assured Selenskyj that he could count on America's "unshakable support" for the country's sovereignty. Representatives of the 30 NATO countries last Thursday discussed the situation at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council - but nothing was known about concrete results.

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