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Explained: What can the US, its allies do to stop Russia from potentially invading Ukraine?

While Russia has insisted that it has no plans of invading Ukraine this time around, Putin seems to be using the threat of war as a bargaining chip to force the West to reassess its position in eastern Europe. How have the US and its allies reacted to Russia’s threats in Ukraine?

Written by Rahel Philipose , Edited by Explained Desk | Panaji |
Updated: January 24, 2022 8:11:00 am
US President Joe Biden addresses the press on Thursday. He warned that 'Russia will pay a heavy price' if it chooses to invade Ukraine. (AP Photo)

Tension is mounting along the border of Ukraine, where Russia has deployed over 100,000 troops at striking distance, sparking fears of a possible invasion. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted that his country is not on the warpath, the United States and its allies have threatened fresh sanctions in response to one wrong move.

But Russia blames the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) for endangering and undermining its regional security by upping its military presence in Eastern Europe. In a series of talks between top US, NATO and Russian officials, the Kremlin has listed out several big demands, most of which have already been turned down as “non-starters”.

On Friday, in a bid to keep diplomacy alive and to avert a possible Russian invasion in Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov held a 90-minute meeting in Geneva. There were no major breakthroughs, but both diplomats said they planned to speak again and left the door open for another round of dialogue between US President Joe Biden and Putin.

In an ominous press conference on Thursday, Biden warned that “Russia will pay a heavy price” if it chooses to invade Ukraine.

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Why is Russia threatening Ukraine?

Russia has long been opposed to Ukraine’s growing closeness with European institutions, particularly NATO. The former Soviet republic shares borders with Russia on one side, and the European Union on the other.

The current military buildup along the Russia-Ukraine border is reminiscent of 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimean peninsula and backed separatists who were able to capture much of eastern Ukraine. This came soon after thousands of disgruntled Ukrainians held street protests across the country that led to the deposition of their unpopular pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by Putin himself.

While the conflict continues even today, its most deadly phase was brought to an end temporarily after the Minsk agreements were signed in 2014 and 2015. But the rebels continue to fight Ukraine’s military forces in Eastern Ukraine, particularly in the industrial heartland of Donbas. In the last seven years, over 14,000 people have been killed.

Historically, Russia has been reluctant to accept Ukraine’s independence. In fact, in an article published last year, Putin wrote that Russians and Ukrainians were part of “one nation”. He has repeatedly accused Ukraine’s leadership of running an “anti-Russian project”, BBC reported.

While Russia has insisted that it has no plans of invading Ukraine this time around, Putin seems to be using the threat of war as a bargaining chip to force the West to reassess its position in eastern Europe. Moscow has accused the West of flooding Ukraine with weapons and stoking tensions in the region.

In December last year, Putin demanded that no former Soviet states, such as Ukraine, be added to NATO. He also called for the military alliance to withdraw its presence in Eastern Europe. This would mean that NATO countries would have to pull out all their combat units from Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

How have the US and its allies reacted to Russia’s threats in Ukraine?

The US and its allies have roundly rejected Putin’s demands. Endorsing such an agreement would go against the NATO’s founding treaty, under which the organisation can invite any willing European country that can help ensure security in the North Atlantic area, and fulfill the obligations of membership.
“NATO will not renounce our ability to protect and defend each other, including with the presence of troops in the easternpart of the alliance,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said in a statement on Friday.

But Russia is refusing to budge and has asked the US and NATO to provide a written response at the earliest so that they can decide on their next steps.

Meanwhile, Biden is convinced Russia will soon invade Ukraine, but warned that Moscow would have to pay a heavy price for its actions. “My guess is he (Putin) will move in. He has to do something,” Biden said during a press conference on Wednesday.

The US and its allies have threatened to impose severe economic sanctions if Russia engages in fresh aggression against Ukraine. “Our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy,” he told reporters. “If they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force they’ve massed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia.”

This is not the first time the US has imposed sanctions on Russia. It has been doing so since 2014, following the annexation of Crimea. According to research by the Atlantic Council, the Russian economy has taken a hit of about $50 billion annually because of this.

But the US’ sanctions have so far failed to deter Putin from stirring up trouble near the Ukraine border. Some analysts say their best bet is to target Russia’s multi-billion dollar Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. The pipeline has been at the centre of a massive geopolitical debate as it bypasses countries like Ukraine and Poland who vocally oppose it. Russia is likely to lose billions if the project is halted in Germany.

Biden sparked a controversy when he recently suggested that a “minor incursion” by Russia would lead to a split among NATO members on how to respond. He later tried to clean up his comments, stating that any attempt to cross the Ukrainian border would be met with “a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies.”

The Biden administration approved an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to Ukraine this week, in addition to the $450 million in the past fiscal year, according to The New York Times.

In recent weeks, European nations have pushed for greater military deployment in eastern Europe to counter Russia’s advances. For instance, Spain is sending warships to join NATO’s naval forces in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, BBC reported. French President Emmanuel Macron has also offered to send troops to Romania.

The UK has said it will be sending extra troops and defensive weapons to Ukraine.

What happened during the US-Russia talks on Friday?

While Blinken and Lavrov made no major breakthrough on Friday, they agreed to keep talking to try to resolve the crisis.

Blinked asserted, yet again, that the US and its allies were not willing to accept Russia’s demands. He said that the US would provide a written response to Russia’s proposals next week and suggested another meeting soon after.

“We didn’t expect any major breakthroughs to happen today, but I believe we are now on a clearer path to understanding each other’s positions,” Blinken said after the meeting. Lavrov said that the talks were “constructive and useful”.

“I can’t say whether we are on the right track or not,” he told reporters. “We will understand that when we receive the US written response to all of our proposals.”

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