Russia Awaits Biden Administration’s Next Play

by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

December 10, 2021

MOSCOW — Russia maintained a barrage of hostile rhetoric against Ukraine on Thursday, comparing the crisis there to the most dangerous period of the Cold War, as it awaits the Biden administration’s next move via NATO.

The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of deploying heavy artillery to the front lines of fighting with pro-Russian separatists in the former Soviet republic’s east while failing to engage in a peace process.

The events in the Donbass, or conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, now “resemble genocide,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, according to the TASS state news agency.

The FSB, Russian intelligence service, said earlier on Thursday that a Ukrainian warship was heading towards the Kerch Strait, which separates Russia and its annexed peninsula of Crimea, and did not respond to a Russian request to change its course.

According to Ukraine’s defense minister, the ship was a search-and-rescue vessel with no weapons on board.

“Negotiations on a peaceful settlement have practically come to a halt,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters, referring to the seven-year conflict in the eastern Donbass region between Ukrainian and separatist forces.

According to the ministry’s Twitter feed, quoting Zakharova, “Kiev’s building up its contingent on the line of contact in Donbass with the support of NATO countries pumping the country with weapons.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov agreed with a reporter who suggested that East-West tensions over Ukraine could rekindle the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, in which the US and the Soviet Union were on the verge of nuclear war.

The remarks came two days after Biden and Putin held a video call to try to defuse the Ukraine crisis.  They suggested that Moscow wants to keep tensions high while waiting for Biden’s next move, which has stated that he intends to hold follow-up talks with Russia and NATO countries.

Ukraine, which wants to join NATO, says it is worried about an invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops stationed near its border.  Moscow claims that its stance is solely defensive.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that Kiev expects to be supported by Western military allies even if the US does not send troops.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s military accused Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east of six new violations of a stalled 2020 ceasefire, three of which involved weapons prohibited under previous peace treaties that Moscow and Kiev say they are attempting to resurrect.

Biden said on Wednesday that he hoped to announce high-level meetings with Russia and major NATO allies by Friday to discuss Moscow’s concerns and the possibility of “lowering the temperature along the eastern front.”

According to Russia’s Ryabkov, this was a “unilateral” statement, implying that the US had not discussed it with Moscow.

When asked if Russia would object to other NATO members participating, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded, “We cannot say because there is no understanding of how all of this will be arranged.”

NATO To Decide Counter Move As Russian Troops Mass Along Ukrainian Border

by Harold W. Reid and H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

November 27, 2021

WASHINGTON — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg issued a stern warning to Russia on Friday that any attempt to invade Ukraine would be costly.

Following large scale war games in western Russia this year, Ukraine claims Moscow has kept 90,000 troops massed along the Ukraine-Russian border.  According to the Ukraine Defense Ministry, units of Russia’s 41st army are stationed near Yelnya, about 160 miles north of the border.

When pressed for comment, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev denied Russian aims to invade the former Soviet satellite nation and also denied the presence of soldier in the area described by Ukraine officials.

“If Russia uses force against Ukraine that will have costs, that would have consequences . . . This is the second time this year that Russia has amassed a large and unusual concentration of forces in the region.  This military buildup is unprovoked and unexplained. It raises tensions and it risks miscalculations,” Stoltenberg said.

NATO members are scheduled to meet November 30th to December 1 in Latvia.  Although the NATO alliance stipulates activation when a member nation is attacked, it could send aid to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.  The general view is a Russian invasion of Ukraine could lead to further aggression or attacks on NATO.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, after mass protests drove the country’s Moscow-friendly president from power. 

Ukraine and NATO accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the insurgents. Moscow denied this, claiming that Russians who joined the separatists were doing so voluntarily.  More than 14,000 people have died as a result of the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as Donbas.

NATO would be unable to provide Ukraine with significant military assistance in time to make a difference against Russian forces, so economic measures such as Western sanctions are more likely to be used to impose a financial cost on Moscow.

Ukraine Plans Border Barrier Against Russia & Belarus

by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

November 19, 2021

Denys Monastirsky

KIEV — Ukraine plans to invest millions of dollars to fortify its eastern borders in order to prevent potential unlawful crossings and safeguard the country from alleged Russian aggression, according to Denys Monastirsky, Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs.

Monastirsky, speaking to parliamentarians on Friday, recommended that $640 million be earmarked for engineering equipment on the borders with Russia and Belarus, which ranges  1,226 and 673.5 miles respectively.

According to the official, Kiev’s new demarcation line will consist of a complex of barbed wire barricades and fences, alarm systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and 24-hour surveillance.

Many in the Ukrainian parliament have called imposing a state of emergency in border areas or regions if  similar to  what Poland and Lithuania have implemented to heed the uncontrollable influx of illegal migrants.

The current migrant crisis on the EU’s eastern frontiers has worsened in the previous two weeks, with thousands of desperate people, mostly from Iraq, Iran, and Syria, attempting to enter Poland and Lithuania via Belarus.

Moscow has frequently stated that it is not involved in the deteriorating humanitarian situation, despite accusations from Western politicians and commentators that Belarus and Russia are waging “Hybrid warfare.”

Russia To Deploy Paratroop Regiment To Crimea

by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

November 18, 2021

SEVASTOPOL – The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday that it would deploy a new paratroop regiment to annexed Crimea by early December.  Experts say this is a response to British military agreements with Ukraine.

According to Interfax, Russia’s military said it would establish the new regiment on the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, completing a reshuffle of forces announced by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in March.

At the same time, Moscow objected to a framework agreement under which Ukraine will use British funding to improve its naval capabilities, including the purchase of missiles and the construction of missile ships and a navy base on the Sea of Azov.

Ukraine and NATO members have expressed concern about Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s borders, while Moscow has accused Ukraine and their allies of destabilizing behavior.

Russia has responded to such concerns by denying any threat, criticizing “alarmist” news reports, and affirming its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it sees fit.

Eastern Europe: Migrant Crisis Risks Military Clash

by The Chicago Times Staff

November 11, 2021

MINSK – European Union nations bordering Belarus warned on Thursday that the migrant crisis on the EU’s eastern borders may escalate into a military conflict, while Ukraine, not an EU member, said it would send more troops to reinforce its border.

Belarus’ defense minister, Major General Viktor Khrenin, previously stated that in response to a buildup of Polish military forces near the border, Belarus would be required to take “appropriate response measures,” both independently and in collaboration with its ally, Russia.

Ukraine has announced increased combat drills and the deployment of 8,500 more troops and police along the country’s long northern border with Belarus.

The EU claims that Minsk is pushing out thousands of migrants from war-torn regions of the world to try to breach its borders, and that additional penalties might be imposed on Belarus and the airlines that transport the migrants as early as Monday.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko promised to retaliate, possibly by cutting down the flow of Russian natural gas via Belarus.  There has been no official comment on a gas supply embargo by Russia which is allied with Belarus.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT PUTIN IN ISOLATION

by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

September 14, 2021

MOSCOW – The Kremlin stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin went into self-isolation after inner circle staffers became infected with the coronavirus COVID-19.

Putin, who has been fully immunized from COVID-19 with Russia’s Sputnik V, held several public appearances indoors on Monday and even hinted that he may need to quarantine soon.

At the time, an aide attempted to imply that he was speaking broadly, and on Tuesday, he insisted that no one’s health was jeopardized.

During a videoconference with government officials and members of the ruling United Russia party, Putin said that several people in his “immediate circle” including a staff member with whom he had close contact all day Monday, were infected with the virus.

That employee had been immunized and recently “revaccinated,” Putin said, presumably referring to a third shot that Russia is providing to people who were immunized more than six months ago.

Russian authorities have been repeatedly chastised for downplaying the pandemic and rarely imposing control measures, even in the face of infection surges.  Russia’s death toll is currently at its highest point of the pandemic, with just under 800 people dying every day. 

Putin has rarely worn a mask in public, despite the fact that he appeared to work largely remotely and was rarely seen in public prior to being vaccinated.

Daily coronavirus infections in Russia have dropped from over 20,000 to around 17,000 in the last month, but experts have questioned how Russia is tracking cases and deaths.  Despite heavy caseloads, Russia has struggled to vaccinate its citizens, and its rates lag far behind those of many other countries.  As of Friday, only 32% of the population had received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot, and only 27% had been fully vaccinated.