Russia and Ukraine are increasingly expecting provocations from each other

Russia and Ukraine are increasingly expecting provocations from each other

Marina Kovalenko

Kiev, it seems, is preparing for a military solution to the “problem of Donbass”. This statement was made by the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova on Friday, pointing out, among other things, the growth of the foreign military presence in Ukraine. A day earlier, the same concerns were expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The self-proclaimed republics of Donbass themselves suggest that “Ukraine can prepare for military provocations on the line of contact during the holidays.” In Kiev, as before, they talk about the threat of a “military invasion of Russia.” As follows from the results of recent opinion polls, not only the Ukrainian authorities, but also almost half of the citizens of this country already believe in such a scenario.
The Russian authorities are sounding the alarm louder about a possible military operation by Ukraine in the Donbass. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing on Friday:
“Instead of ending the eighth-year civil war, Kiev seems to be preparing for a military solution to the Donbass problem.”
A similar statement on Thursday, speaking at an annual press conference ( see Kommersant on December 24 ), was made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to him, recently there is an impression that the Ukrainian authorities are “preparing a military operation” in Donbass.
This position is substantiated in Moscow by a number of arguments. Firstly, Maria Zakharova drew attention to the statement by the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denis Shmygal to increase the country’s military budget to almost $ 12 billion in 2022. “The military budget of Ukraine has increased by 20%. What world? ” – the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation was indignant. Secondly, according to her, the scale of the military presence in the republic is growing from year to year: we are talking not only about the supply of weapons and military equipment, but also about military instructors. “At present, there are about 10 thousand instructors permanently there, of which 4 thousand are directly from the United States,” the diplomat said, noting that these people are engaged in “direct incitement” in Donbass.
Finally, Maria Zakharova drew attention to the latest initiative of the Ukrainian side in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), concerning ten steps to unblock the peace process in Donbass. The proposal mainly involves a return to the truce.
The initiative, according to Ms Zakharova, “in fact, duplicates the provisions that are already contained in the Minsk agreements and the implementation of which Kiev continues to sabotage in all possible ways.” “It’s not ten steps forward, it’s a hundred steps back,” she summed up.
Meanwhile, the TCG meeting on Thursday ended rather positively: the participants decided to fully comply with the agreements on measures to strengthen the ceasefire.
The determination to “help improve the security situation before Christmas” was welcomed by the Foreign Ministries of Germany and France. And the head of the office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak on Facebook called it “a step towards de-escalation in the east of the country.” However, there is little chance that the truce will be lasting. Already on Friday, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, Vladislav Deinogo, said: “The behavior of the Ukrainian side in the media sphere raises concerns that Ukraine may prepare for military provocations on the contact line during the holidays.”
Ukrainian MP Aleksey Goncharenko (European Solidarity Party), in an interview with Kommersant, expressed the opinion that the armistice agreement could be in some way a concession to the West from Russia before the upcoming talks on security guarantees in Europe. “Perhaps this concession is due to the fact that Russia is interested in negotiations between Vladimir Putin and (US President – Kommersant ) Joseph Biden early next year. And for this it is necessary that the power component is at least partially removed, “Kiev political analyst Olesya Yakhno also said in an interview with Kommersant.
However, the West continues to argue that Moscow can still do a lot to de-escalate. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with the DPA agency yesterday: “Russia has the opportunity to make Christmas for all of us peaceful and calm.” For this, according to him, Russian troops should be withdrawn from the border with Ukraine. The fact that de-escalation (including the withdrawal of troops from the Ukrainian border) “can create a favorable background for negotiations” with the Russian Federation, was also noted in an interview with Kommersant by US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan.
In the meantime, it is indicated in Ukraine that the number of Russian troops near the border is only growing.
Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) of Ukraine, said on Wednesday that 122,000 Russian troops were already concentrated at a distance of 200 km from the Ukrainian border. The day before, Bloomberg also wrote with reference to the British company Jane’s that the Russian Federation continues to pull military equipment there – tanks, artillery and air defense systems.
Against this background, anxiety is growing in Ukrainian society: almost half of the country’s citizens (49.2%) believe that the threat of a military invasion by Russia into the republic is real. This is evidenced by the results of a poll, published on Friday, conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology.
Commenting on the statements that Kiev is preparing an operation in Donbass, Deputy Goncharenko assured Kommersant: “This is all nonsense. Ukraine is not preparing anything ”. He expressed confidence that the Russian Federation is trying to “justify its own aggressive actions and statements” with such rhetoric. Ukrainian experts are of the same opinion. “This is an attempt by the Russian military-political leadership to explain – primarily to its own people – what such a huge number of Russian troops are doing on the border with Ukraine,” political expert Valentin Gladkikh told Kommersant. In turn, the director of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics Ruslan Bortnik, in a conversation with Kommersant, expressed the opinion that Russia is using such theses, among other things, to “issue political ultimatums to Western partners.”
Speaking about an increase in the presence of NATO in one form or another in Ukraine, Olesya Yakhno noted: “If now Ukraine is periodically faced with an increase in the size of the Russian army near the borders of Ukraine, perceiving this as pressure, then, of course, we will strive even more to strengthen our defenses through cooperation with NATO countries ”. And she concluded:
“Here Russia itself must decide on its policy and on the cause-and-effect relationship.”

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