Countering Putin’s Brinksmanship

Countering Putin’s Brinksmanship

As tensions rise along the Russia-Ukraine border, here’s a look at what is being done to deescalate the crisis.

tippinsights Editorial Board

Tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border have been running high for weeks. In an effort to resolve the crisis, the Biden administration has been engaging with its Russian counterparts through diplomatic channels.

President Biden has spoken to President Putin twice in the past few weeks. While it is well known that Moscow has put forward demands and stipulated sops, what is as yet unknown is what the U.S. is willing to concede to deescalate the situation.

President Putin insists that NATO must stop expanding eastward. He claims that the western alliance's presence along Russian borders is a security threat. But the claims are hardly widely recognized.

"Moscow is simultaneously driving the false narrative that NATO is threatening Russia, that NATO plans to station military infrastructure in Ukraine to stir conflict with Russia, that NATO swore after the cold war not to admit countries in Eastern Europe, and that NATO has broken those promises," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news conference at the State Department. "Each of those claims is false."

For its part, Russia has largely gone unpunished for its aggressions in the recent past. Beyond international condemnation, Moscow has not been penalized for its invasion of Georgia, the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, and the Donbas. It is, in fact, Moscow's aggression that has spurred its neighbors to align with NATO.

Putin's efforts to deter Georgia from seeking admittance to NATO by seizing parts of its territory have not succeeded. In Ukraine, too, the situation is similar. Despite Putin's claims of "one people" and a shared past, more citizens are now in favor of joining the Western alliance.

The question is, what will the U.S. and its allies have to give to appease the opportunist Russian leader? An unconfirmed suggestion that America was considering scaling back its troop presence in Eastern Europe and Poland alarmed the Baltic States. The White House was forced to issue a statement to appease the NATO members.

Should diplomacy fail, the U.S. and its allies are prepared for economic sanctions and military action.  It is doubtful that Moscow will get away scot-free this time. The Biden administration has stated that Russia will be penalized and will have to bear "massive consequences."

But, a war, especially one that will involve more than the principal parties, is best avoided. For this, NATO and the U.S. will have to tread a fine line that appeases Moscow without compromising Ukraine's sovereignty and the region's stability.

Diplomats and analysts believe that Putin is not fully committed to a war. While he may still subscribe to an integrationist vision for Eurasia, he is unlikely to act on it. He is seeking to consolidate his legacy, and by taking on NATO, and by default, the U.S., he believes he can drive up his popularity at home. With President Biden struggling to find his footing after a contentious election and Americans refusing to rally behind their leader, the Kremlin may consider this the most suitable time.

Trouble brewing in neighboring Kazakhstan is likely to play a role in the ongoing crisis. A request for peacekeeping forces from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of former Soviet states, including Russia, will aid Putin's standing. Moscow would not squander an opportunity to further its sphere of influence and demonstrate its strength. It remains to be seen if this will appease the autocratic leader.

Meanwhile, there is a widely held opinion that NATO must consolidate and not spread itself too thin. Article 5 of NATO stipulates collective action – "an attack on one member state is to be interpreted as an attack on all." Some even consider the admittance of the Balkan states, soon after the collapse of the USSR, a "strategic blunder." Despite its long-pending request, the delay in granting Georgia member status suggests that the western alliance is mindful of its vulnerability. Moscow may regard its late response as a success of its ploys.

Still, much can be done to get Moscow to toe the line and deescalate matters along the Ukrainian border. Even after nine months in office, President Biden's failure to nominate an ambassador to Ukraine is viewed as a costly lapse. The White House should rectify this situation without delay.

Facilitating Kyiv's access to natural gas and oil supplies will be another step in helping its economy and people. Leveraging NATO's resources to provide cyber protection, military training and equipment, and intelligence inputs; while also imposing sanctions on Russians financing anti-democratic activities will deter Moscow's aggressive stance.

No effort must be spared to ensure the sovereignty of Ukraine and deflect war.  For the peace and stability of a continent, an acceptable solution for all must be found and implemented without delay.

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TIPP Takes

Geopolitics

Israel Could Back Iran Nuclear Deal

The head of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Aharon Haliva, told ministers during a Cabinet meeting on Sunday (January 2) that Israel would be better off if the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna led to a deal, rather than collapsing without one.

Infograph

Before the Iranian Revolution -- and the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- Israel was an enthusiastic military partner with Iran. At the time, Iran was the only Middle Eastern country that recognized Israel's right to exist.

In 1977, an Israeli-Iranian project code-named "Operation Flower" was one of several oil-for-arms contracts signed in Tehran by the Shah and Shimon Peres, then the Israeli Defence Minister. Operation Flower was a joint Israeli-Iranian effort to develop an intermediate-range, surface-to-surface missile. In addition, the deal offered a guaranteed oil supply to Israel.

In July 2015, Iran agreed to a long-term deal on its nuclear program with the U.S., UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to limit nuclear activities and allow international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. The JCPOA was President Barack Obama's top foreign policy priority.

In May 2018, President Donald Trump quit the deal, reinstating U.S. sanctions on Iran. Iran's economy plummets into recession, with gross domestic product plunging from $445bn in 2017 to $250bn last year.

After winning the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden pledges to rejoin the nuclear deal so long as Iran also comes back into compliance. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responds, saying Iran can restore the agreement. "We'll be back where we were," he states.

Now that Israel's Operations Directorate supports a potential deal, Haliva's comments suggest backing from a regional power previously opposed to the JCPOA deal.


China Backs Kazakhstan As Xi Praises Crackdown As 'Decisive Actions'

On Friday, Kazakhstani President Tokayev said he had instructed security forces to fire protesters without warning.

Xi, in what official media described as a "verbal message," praised Mr. Tokayev for "taking decisive and effective actions at a critical moment" and "quickly calming the situation."

The Chinese leader said he [Tokayev] had "shown the sense of responsibility as a statesman, and demonstrated a highly responsible attitude to the country and the people" and added that China was "ready to provide the necessary support to help it overcome the difficulties."

China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing was "willing to do its best to provide the necessary support." "As a fraternal neighbor and a permanent comprehensive strategic partner, China is willing to provide the necessary support to Kazakhstan to help it tide over difficulties."


NATO Won't Create '2nd-class' Allies To Soothe Russia, Alliance Head Says

NATO has said it is ready for talks on reciprocal arms control with Moscow.

NATO foreign ministers met by video conference Friday to discuss Russia's military presence on Ukraine's borders, as alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the troop buildup continues.

"We support Ukraine," Stoltenberg said, adding that NATO cannot compromise on the sovereignty of nations and permit each nation to choose its course toward membership.

Recently, the leaders of Sweden and Finland, non-member states aligned with NATO, signaled their decision to join NATO as their right of self-determination in the wake of Russia's troop movements near the Ukraine border.


Russian Military Advisors Arrive In Mali After French Troop Reduction

Russian military advisors have arrived in Mali in recent weeks.

Wagner Group

One Malian army officer, who requested anonymity, said 400 Russian military personnel might be operating in the Sahel state, struggling to quell a decade-long Islamist insurgency.

The Russian presence will fuel suspicions that Mali's army-dominated government has mercenaries from Russia's controversial Wagner group.

In late December, 15 Western countries condemned the alleged deployment of Wagner fighters to Mali and accused Moscow, in a statement, of providing them with material backing.

Mali is the epicenter of a jihadist insurgency that began in the country's north in 2012 and spread three years later to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Related:
tippinsights:  The Wagner Group: Putin's Secret Mercenary Army


U.S. Special Operations Forces Set Up Albania Headquarters

The U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) has decided to locate a forward-based SOF headquarters in Albania.

A U.S. Army Green Beret  prepares Albanian special forces for drills July 23, 2021, (Devin Andrews/U.S. Marine Corps)
A U.S. Army Green Beret prepares Albanian special forces for drills July 23, 2021, (Devin Andrews/U.S. Marine Corps)

The location of the rotational forward base in Albania will provide increased interoperability with Albanian allies, important access to transportation hubs in the Balkans, and greater logistical flexibility, SOCEUR said in a statement.

The establishment of the rotational base in Albania comes at a time of increased tensions in the Balkan region and the growing influence of Russia. Albania's closest neighbor, Serbia, is increasingly arming itself with Russian defense systems and has most recently taken delivery of Russian-developed Kornet anti-tank guided missiles.

Albania has been a member of NATO since 2009 and has hosted several NATO exercises, including the U.S. Army's flagship drill in Europe, 'Defender Europe. '

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