The Russia-Ukraine conflict continues to escalate, with a new buildup of Russian troops and military hardware on the shared border of the two countries. Strains began Russo-Ukrainian relations after President Vladimir Putin annexed and seized control of Crimea in 2014, increasing Russian military presence in the area. This, along with Putin’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, has caused a seven-year-long conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists that has claimed at least 14,000 lives, according to CBS News.
While Russia has long denied any military involvement in eastern Ukrainian conflicts, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Russia would “take measures to ensure the security of its borders,” though he mentioned no specific measures. Al Jazeera reports that while Peskov insisted Russia was not trying to threaten Ukraine, it would be forced to act if NATO troops were deployed to Ukraine. This response came after NATO expressed its concerns about the Russian military buildup near the shared border.
The United States expressed similar concerns, even though a U.S. military official believed that Russian moves could be exercises, according to CBS News. Nonetheless, President Joe Biden affirmed the United States’ “unwavering support” for Ukraine in a phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, reports BBC News. The U.S. warned Russia against aggression and put U.S. forces in Europe on high alert.
Although some believe Russia’s actions are merely military training exercises, others like Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at the CNA corporation, believe that the military deployments “appear out of cycle for such exercises, and are not regular troop rotations” The Guardian reports.
In any case, European powers like Britain plan on helping Ukraine prepare for any major conflict. According to Reuters, Ukraine and Britain will conduct joint military drills, called Cossack Mace, over the summer where both sides would plan defensive and offensive actions. Ukraine, in a statement, mentioned that it sees these exercises as a way of strengthening cooperation between NATO and Ukrainian forces, as well as possibly restoring territorial integrity and the state border of Ukraine.
Amidst the latest escalation of conflict, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) civilian Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine showed hundreds of ceasefire violations. Since no progress was being made towards a peaceful resolution of the problem and significant amounts of weaponry were present in the region, the conflict was bound to escalate. While the ceasefire showed a significant reduction in violence, it was evident that it would not last forever.
The current tense environment with large military presence could trigger armed fighting, regardless of whether either side intends it or not. Katharine Quinn-Judge mentioned to CBS News that “Neither side wants to bear the political or economic costs this would bring.” This rise in conflict does not necessarily signify that a major escalation will follow, but the state of anarchy and uncertainty in the international system leave the future of this conflict unpredictable.
Photo courtesy of OSCE (Flickr).