A Ukrainian soldier walks near the village of Pesli in eastern Ukraine, not far from the frontline with pro-Russian separatists in Donbass, on January 25, 2022 (AFP/Anatolii STEPANOV)
The United States rejected on Wednesday, in its written response delivered to Russia, one of Moscow’s main demands, by refusing to close NATO’s door to Ukraine, but claim to have proposed a “serious diplomatic path” for avoid another war.
The moment of truth is therefore approaching, when threats, sounds of boots, but also glimmers of hope alternate at a frantic pace.
On the same day on Wednesday, Washington said it expected a possible attack by Russian forces by “mid-February”, while in Paris, a meeting of Russian and Ukrainian emissaries on the ongoing conflict in the Eastern Ukraine resulted in a rare joint commitment to preserve the ceasefire.
“Everything indicates” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will use military force at some point, perhaps between now and mid-February,” said US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. She pointed out that the opening of the Beijing Olympics on February 4 could influence “its schedule”, to avoid offending Chinese President Xi Jinping during this major event for China.
Tensions have steadily risen in recent months, with Moscow being accused by the West of having deployed more than 100,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border for a potential offensive. Russia, for its part, demands guarantees for its security, including the rejection of this country’s membership of NATO.
– “Open door” –
The Americans and the Atlantic Alliance delivered two separate letters to the Russians on Wednesday, demanding a written response to the draft treaties they had sent to Westerners in mid-December.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken detailed Washington’s written response to Moscow’s demands on Wednesday January 26, 2022 (POOL / Brendan Smialowski)
However, the United States has “clearly made it known” that it defends “the principle of the open door to NATO”, hammered the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken. In other words, there is no question of formally committing never to let Ukraine join the Alliance.
The Secretary of State reiterated Western warnings of an unprecedented response against Russia in the event of an invasion of the neighboring country.
However, he assured that this American missive offered “a serious diplomatic channel if Russia wishes it”, and said he was ready to speak again “in the coming days” with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The US government proposes to relaunch formal negotiations on “arms control”, and to discuss “reciprocal transparency measures” on “military postures” and “military exercises” in Europe.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, January 24, 2022 (AFP / JOHN THYS)
“We are once again reaching out to Russia to try to pursue a path of dialogue (…) but we have also prepared for the worst”, summarized for his part the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg.
Will Russia take this outstretched hand, or will it view the rejection of its key demands as a casus belli?
“It’s an arbitration that will be done by Putin himself,” said Marie Dumoulin, of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank. “No one, even within the Russian system, knows which way the decision will go.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Interfax that Russian diplomacy would now “study” the Western response, noting that the opposing camp had “taken nearly a month and a half to analyze” the demands from Moscow.
At the same time as this crucial step, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, meeting in Paris with the French and German mediators, affirmed in a joint press release their “unconditional respect for the ceasefire” between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine, promising to meet again “in Berlin in two weeks”.
The talks “were not easy,” said Russian special envoy Dmitri Kozak, hoping for “results” in February. It is “the first significant document on which we have managed to agree since December 2019”, rejoiced the Ukrainian negotiator Andriï Iermak.
France hailed “a good signal” of “reengagement” from the Russians despite “difficult conditions”, before the meeting scheduled for Friday between French President Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin.
– “Warmong path” –
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization Rapid Reaction Force (AFP/)
Reinforcing the feeling of a possible imminent explosion, Washington “urged” its nationals in Ukraine on Wednesday to “consider leaving now” to avoid being trapped “in a conflict zone.
Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, on December 23, 2021 in Moscow (AFP / NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA)
Opposite, Sergei Lavrov promised “necessary response measures” if the West continues on this “belligerent path”, denouncing Western “hysteria” about the supposed imminence of a Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also downplayed the impact of possible personal sanctions from Washington against Vladimir Putin, considered Tuesday by US President Joe Biden. They would not be “politically painful” for the Russian head of state, although “destructive” for relations between Moscow and the West, he warned.