Russian-Ukrainian Standoff Reminds of Fragile Geopolitical Order
Over the past weeks you saw a troubling development along the borders of Russia and Ukraine. Moscow amassed 150,000 troops and supporting equipment and military hospitals along its Ukrainian boundary. International observers from the European Union were concerned that this might be a warning sign of more fighting to come between the two neighbors. Not since the China versus Taiwan potential confrontation has there been such a threat to geopolitical stability.
Russia Masses 150,000 Troops Along Ukrainian Border
It was the top diplomat from the European Union who alerted the rest of the world to a potentially new crisis between long time enemies Russia and Ukraine. While diplomat Josep Borrell would not reveal his source for this Russian troop count, he warned about the risks of a rise in the conflict to international organizations and media. Borrell commented that:
“We have to commend Ukraine for its restrained response and we urge Russia to de-escalate and to diffuse tensions.”
Borrell added that the EU was not planning any additional economic sanctions or expelling of Moscow's diplomats for now. Meanwhile the foreign minister of Ukraine was requesting that the EU put up new sanctions. The rising tensions building between Russia and Ukraine were poised to boil over into increased conflict. This map below shows the area in dispute around the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine:
Pope Calls For Restraint on Both Sides
By Sunday Pope Francis had entered the dangerous fray in an effort to encourage a peaceful resolution to the conflict. He expressed worries about the Russian military buildup along Ukraine's border and appealed for attempts to be made to reduce tensions in this conflict that has lasted seven years in the east of Ukraine. The Ukrainian army has been engaged in a de facto war versus rebels backed by Russia.
Authorities in Ukraine stated that the violations in the cease fire were becoming increasingly common over the last several weeks. Almost 30 soldiers have died in the skirmishes so far this year. The Ukrainian government warned that Russia was making the situation more tense by deploying 42,000 soldiers to Crimea and 41,000 soldiers close to the eastern Ukraine border. The Russians have a huge naval base in Crimea. Pope Francis shared in remarks he delivered to St. Peter's Square that:
“I observe with great apprehension the increase of military activities. Please, I strongly hope that an increase of tensions is avoided, and, on the contrary, gestures are made capable of promoting reciprocal trust and favoring the reconciliation and the peace which are so necessary and so desired. Take to hear the grave humanitarian situation facing the population, to whom I express my closeness and for whom I invite prayers.”
Russian Forces Buildup Largest Since 2014
Ukraine has not seen such a large buildup of Russian forces in a troop deployment like this since 2014. Meanwhile Moscow has been explaining away the military deployment as an exercise of readiness that they organized to counter perceived NATO threats. It was back in 2014 that Russia occupied the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula as fighting erupted between Ukrainian government forces and eastern Ukrainian separatists. Meanwhile Russia is arguing that there are NATO threats present. They also explained away their military buildup in terms of a need for security along the Ukrainian border.
Russia Orders End to Huge Military Drills Along Ukrainian Border After Tense Several Days
Finally on Friday an easing of the tensions began. The Russian minister of defense called for the ongoing military drills near to Ukraine to end. The over hundred thousand troops along with dozens of Russian warships withdrew helping to calm tensions with the Western world.
This announcement was paired with an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to hold talks in Moscow. The Russian president rejected Zelensky's proposition to meet together in the eastern Ukraine region torn by war. Zelensky had hoped the talks might be held with the separatists directly. Matters became more complicated when a major Russian opposition figure Dmitry Gudkov left the country for Ukraine over the weekend.
As the Russian troops were finishing their drills, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu explained the Russian point of view, with:
“The troops demonstrated their ability to ensure the reliable protection of our country. I've made a decision to wind down the checks in the Southern and Western military districts.”
The United States had joined calls for Putin to withdraw his troops. The U.S. welcomed the announcement for Moscow to carry through on its pledge to conclude the military drills held near Ukraine. State Department spokesman Ned Price said to reporters that:
“We've heard the words. I think what we'll be looking for is action.”
NATO Stays Vigilant Through the Crisis
NATO remained vigilant as the Russian ministry shared imposing videos of land- and sea-based maneuvers engaging in amphibious landings. The recordings also showed infantry vehicles crossing through fields and jets blazing across the skies.
Fortunately the Russian declaration that their exercises were only practice maneuvers began to de-escalate the situation later in the week. This announcement reassured Ukranian leader Zelensky and NATO. Zelensky shared that:
“The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension.”
A NATO official also weighed in with:
“Any steps towards de-escalation by Russia would be important and well overdue. NATO remains vigilant and we will continue to closely monitor Russia's unjustified military buildup in and around Ukraine.”
Meanwhile back in Moscow, Vladimir Putin shared that “If President Zelensky wants to start repairing relations, then we of course welcome it.” Zelensky is welcome in Moscow “any time.”
The Russian leader did stipulate actions the Ukrainian leader should take to improve the situation. Putin stated that Zelensky should meet with the breakaway region leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk first if he wanted to tamp down on fighting in the eastern part of the country. Zelensky himself had just invited the Russian leader to have talks in the east of Ukraine, claiming that millions of lives were on the line.
Putin Accused of Playing Games
Other analysts have accused the Russian leader of playing games with Ukraine. Senior Emerging Markets Strategist Timothy Ash of Bluebay Asset Management in London argued that it was difficult for the leader of Ukraine to engage the separatists in direct talks, with:
“Everyone knows that this is a state vs. state conflict but Putin is trying to imply this is a civil war in Ukraine.” Putin is “playing games.”
According to Ukraine, several soldiers had perished from their shrapnel wounds as the “Russian armed forces” shelled Ukrainian positions. OSCE, the European-based security watchdog organization has a mission in the east of Ukraine monitoring the situation. They raised an alarm concerning higher civilian casualties and the “near unprecedented restrictions and impediments to its ability to operate.”
Ukraine along with the West blame Russia for sending in both arms and troops over the border. The Russians continue to deny the charge. Around 30 soldiers from Ukraine have died since the beginning of the year versus 50 for all of last year. The buildup of troops along the Ukrainian border has raised fears in the West and Kiev that a rerun of the Russian aggression from 2014 is imminent. That was the year that Moscow seized from Ukraine the Crimean peninsula. The military exercises that threaten war in the region reveal the reasons that gold makes sense in an IRA. A means for diversifying a portfolio is through IRA-approved precious metals. There are a range of Gold IRA storage options available nowadays.