Russia’s worrying moves against Ukraine

Still from Reuters video taken April 6, 2021.

Russia is rapidly building up military forces on its Ukraine border and rebuffing diplomatic calls for de-escalation as fighting picks up between Ukrainian troops and Ukrainian-Russian separatists in the disputed Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

President Biden, through his press secretary, is “concerned by escalating Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, including Russian troop movements,” CNBC reported on Thursday, April 8, 2021. Those comments followed “a contentious phone call” between Germany’s chancellor and Putin, “in which she demanded that Moscow reduce” its military presence near Ukraine’s eastern border. Russia has deployed thousands of troops there.

Russia has vowed to “protect” Russians living in Ukraine, and Western governments are concerned it may invade, but Putin’s exact intentions are unclear. The Ukrainian government believes Moscow’s military moves are a pressure tactic in negotiations. They may be more than that. On Friday, April 9, Foreign Policy magazine said, “What seemed like a show of force to the new Biden administration has become, perhaps, something bigger,” and wondered whether Russia “is preparing to go to war in Ukraine.”

The seeds of conflict arise from the fact that the farther east (i.e. closer to Russia) you go in Ukraine, the more ethnic-Russian the population is. While most of western Ukraine bordering Europe is over 90% ethnic Ukrainian, the Donbass area’s population is nearly 40% Russian (see map here). Many of those Russians want to be governed by Moscow, not Kiev (Kyiv). The Ukraine government doesn’t want to cede that territory, where the economy is characterized by coal mining and heavy industries (such as steelmaking), to Russia.

Informed observers still think an “all-out invasion” is “unlikely,” Foreign Policy said, but Putin — whose popularity at home has fallen sharply — may be looking for a military distraction from his domestic woes.

Read articles here (CNBC), here (The Hill), and here (Foreign Policy). Other articles are here (Straits Times), here (Euromaiden Press), and here (BBC). For in-depth background, watch the Al Jazeera video below.

Photo above: Russia is moving trainloads of heavy military equipment toward Ukraine

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