It’s a familiar melody that has been rising in crescendo for three weeks. The fear of a “Russian military adventurism” which, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson assured on November 17, “Would be a tragic mistake”. A “Deep concern about developments in the Ukrainian situation” which Emmanuel Macron communicated directly to Vladimir Putin two days earlier. Or even fear “Let Russia make the serious mistake of trying to repeat what it did in 2014” expressed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on November 10.
Seven years after separatists backed and equipped by Moscow took control of part of eastern Ukraine, western chanceries fear a new start to the conflict. In question, unexplained Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border. A scenario that already unfolded in the spring, when Russia’s military activities not far from Ukraine had given rise to warnings, without reaching the level of alarm today.
“The big difference is that the arrival of forces in the spring was very public, took place over more than a month, this time it is much more discreet”, says Rob Lee, a doctoral student at King’s College London and specialist in Russian defense policy. Hence, according to a well-informed source, a very strong reaction from Western countries aimed at “Put the flashlight on the burglar”.
In a nutshell, Vladimir Putin himself admitted on November 18 that he had raised the temperature in the region: “Our recent warnings have had some effect”, welcomed the president in front of an audience of Russian diplomats, while deploring that “All our warnings and our discussions on the ‘red lines'” not be “Treated only superficially”.
Another recurring element of this ritornello, the uncertainty about Russian intentions. They are not “Unclear”, recognized on November 15 the spokesman of the Pentagon. “The maintenance of offensive forces (Russian) very significant questions us. There is a serious doubt ”, also declared Jean-Yves Le Drian on a daily basis The world November 19.
Doubts about the purpose – simple pressure or a prelude to offensive operations? -, but also on the triggering event of these troop movements. Response to the arrival, on October 30, of an American destroyer in the Black Sea? Reaction to the unprecedented strike by a Ukrainian drone on the Donbass front line at the end of October?
“There is more widely a real fear among the Russians that the Ukrainians will cooperate with NATO without really joining the organization, that there is a membership that does not say its name”, explains Tatiana Kastouéva-Jean, director of the Russia Center at the French Institute for International Relations. A fear that the Russian president had already explained on October 21: “Ukraine might not join NATO, but the country’s military development is already taking place, and this poses a real threat to the Russian Federation. “ To the point of relaunching a conflict which, for five years, has been limited to skirmishes and deadly artillery duels along a front line of 420 kilometers? “What are Russia’s ‘red lines’, that, Vladimir Putin never said, at least not in public”, Rob Lee notes. For him, “Maintaining uncertainty certainly helps Russia” : on November 18, Vladimir Putin thus assured that he was “Necessary to maintain this state (Of voltage) as long as possible, so that it does not occur to them to mount a conflict on our western border which we do not need ”. By targeting, without naming them, Ukraine and its Western partners.