Fear Of War Grips Europe As Russia Orders Troops Into Ukraine
After months of diplomatic efforts and dire warnings by the Biden Administration, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine. This move was condemned by European and American officials as a sign that a large-scale invasion is imminent.
On Monday, Putin recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, and then directed Russian troops to occupy the territory for “peacekeeping functions.” The decision effectively abrogated the Minsk ceasefire agreement signed after Putin illegally annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine in 2014.
In a fiery, hour-long national address, Putin made the erroneous claims that Ukraine was historically part of Russia and “never had traditions of its own statehood.” He also claimed the country was now ruled by a “puppet regime” under the control of the U.S. and Europe. “Ukraine is not just a neighboring country, they are a part of our culture,” he said.
Putin also appeared to lay the groundwork for further escalation by calling on Ukraine to “immediately cease military action,” and warning that “the possibility of a continuation of bloodshed will be fully and wholly on the conscience of the regime ruling the territory of Ukraine.”
The world’s attention now shifts to President Joe Biden and how he responds to Russia’s aggression and a volatile situation that could result in the largest conflict on the European continent since World War II. According to administration officials, more than 50,000. Ukrainians may be killed in an attack that reaches the capital of Ukraine.
Biden spoke Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and “strongly condemned Putin’s decision,” while promising to “respond swiftly and decisively, in lock-step with its Allies and partners, to further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement. Zelensky, on the other hand, encouraged Ukrainians to remain calm during a nationally broadcast speech. He also called for allies’ support.
Biden signed an executive directive that prohibits any U.S. investments and trade in areas that Putin is trying to seize, but does not directly penalize Russia’s leadership. A senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the White House was still determining further courses of action despite earlier administration statements of a “swift and firm response.”
The initial round of restricted sanctions seemed to give the U.S., European allies some room to diplomacy and to prevent miscalculations on both sides. “We will take further measures tomorrow to hold Russia accountable for this clear violation of international law and Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as of Russia’s own international commitment,” the senior official said.
The invasion marks a critical standoff between the U.S. and Russia, two nations that command the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. Putin has successfully dragged Biden into having to respond to a frustrating series of escalations, complicating the U.S. response to Russia’s actions, distracting from other diplomatic priorities, and upping the political stakes for the American president. Biden stated repeatedly that he doesn’t intend to get involved in another foreign conflict. His approval ratings sagged after a turbulent withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer led the Taliban to take control of the country, and this represents Biden’s second major foreign policy test as President.
Putin’s declaration came after several days’ worth of phone calls and meetings with world leaders attempting to dissuade the Russian president from moving forward with an invasion. Russian artillery and troops surround Ukraine from all directions: Russia, Belarus, Crimea, the East, Russia and the South. The forces moved closer to the border over the past few days in positions described by U.S. officials as indicating an impending invasion.
At the same time, there’s been a drastic rise of explosive attacks in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, which the administration calls “false-flag operations” that are meant to justify a Russian military presence. “These attempts at disinformation aren’t fooling anyone, but the human costs of these actions are already accruing,” the senior administration official said. “Russian-backed forces are driving civilians in eastern Ukraine from their homes and conscripting men and boys in those regions against their will. The human costs of a further Russian invasion and occupation will be devastating.”
Biden’s Administration had intended to end the crisis through diplomacy. But the lack of progress has prompted the U.S. to take increasingly urgent steps in response to Putin’s moves. As Russian forces continue to build, the State Department ordered non-essential staff and family members to leave the U.S. embassy from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, out of “an abundance of caution.” In recent weeks, Biden has moved troops, naval ships and warplanes into eastern Europe and warned all Americans to leave Ukraine immediately.
Biden directed the movement of an Army Stryker unit of 1,000 soldiers from Germany into Romania. Romania is a NATO member and was there to support the nearly 900 U.S. military forces. The 82nd Airborne Division has 1,700 additional soldiers and the 18th Airborne Corps has 300 troops. They are headed to Poland, another NATO ally that is concerned about Poland’s eastern borders.
The United States has a limited number of troops stationed in Ukraine. It is not NATO member. Biden made it clear that he does not plan to add troops. Over the last year, he has provided security assistance totalling more than $600,000,000 to Ukraine’s government in weapons, equipment, and material.
Biden has promised sweeping economic sanctions and increased military support to Ukrainian forces should Moscow invade Ukraine, but the administration’s threats have lacked specificity, says Ryan Crocker, a retired diplomat who served as ambassador in Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan over his 37-year career. “I’m really concerned that I’m not seeing a concrete expression of what happens to Russia if they go in,” he says, adding that NATO has also failed to articulate the costs it plans to impose. “NATO doesn’t run by itself. We either lead the Atlantic Alliance, or the Atlantic Alliance probably isn’t going to get much done.”
Crocker believes Biden’s mishandling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan caught the attention of adversaries like Russia and China. Crocker stated that Biden did not closely coordinate and consult with Western partners after he decided to end the war, 20 years later. This left them to scramble for exits. “The whole world saw what happened,” Crocker says. “He’s got to show that he can do a whole lot better on another major international issue than he did on Afghanistan.”
Putin claimed that he never intended to send troops into Ukraine for months. Instead, he’s repeatedly demanded that U.S. forces withdraw from eastern Europe and disallow any other former Soviet-bloc nations, like Ukraine, from joining NATO—concessions the U.S. has already dismissed out of hand.
On Sunday night, the White House stated that Biden was willing to have a meeting with Putin provided Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine. It now seems unlikely that such a conversation will take place.