Moscow is preparing an invasion for Wednesday, Feb. 16. This was the shocking intel that American intelligence gave to its NATO allies. On that same day, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was not as specific, but even he mentioned the high likelihood of the initiation of a Russian offensive before the end of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 20.
To assume now that this scenario will not happen is risky. Vladimir Putin will make the final decision after consulting with his heads of intelligence, and no Western intelligence has access to these meetings. However, much now points to the Kremlin having backed off from war plans for now.
On Tuesday, Russian Forign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the American intel “information terrorism” and added, referring to the 130,000 Russian soldiers tightening the noose around Ukraine, that military drills will be completed on time.
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Escalation will not occur in the coming weeks or even months, stated the Russian diplomat
To confirm this information, Moscow began to withdraw some of the units sent to Crimea to Dagestan and North Ossetia. The financial markets breathed a sigh of relief, with the Polish zloty strengthening itself 1.5 percent compared to the dollar.
Yet, Putin is not pulling back without extracting a price.
The New York Times reported that since December, Kiev and Moscow have been holding secret talks about “some form neutrality.” After his Monday meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy admitted that a NATO membership was merely a “dream” for his country and that Ukraine had not found much support among the West in that endeavor.
Moreover, the Ukrainian leader had not denied the words of Kiev’s ambassador to the UK that Ukraine’s concessions could even entail removing the motion in the constitution that Ukraine intended to join the alliance.
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“People with common sense are still around. When it is under pressure, NATO changes its opinion,” Lavrov had said in response to a question about the ambassador’s statement.
The alliance, whose ministers met on Wednesday in Brussels, had constantly repeated that it will not abandon its open-door policy regarding the right of countries, including Ukraine, to apply for membership.
The compromise with Russia, however, could focus on Ukraine itself deciding to abandon accession efforts. According to the Russian foreign minister, NATO would have to acknowledge the rule that “European security is indivisible” and that “no country can join a military alliance if that would entail a heightened threat to its neighbors.”
Yet, this is not the final price Ukraine would have to pay for peace.
Following his talks with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who visited Moscow in the role of the OSCE chairman, Lavrov declared that Russia expected a “full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.” He said that he believes this should start with Kiev establishing direct contact with Donbas and Luhansk.
The Russians are hoping that this would initiate the process of the Ukrainian government recognizing the Russian separatists. The end goal would be to grant them a veto right on the government’s strategic decisions.
Ukrainian diplomatic sources have admitted that Minsk continues to merely be a surface for negotiation. By reaching for a blackmail strategy, Moscow has signalized that even that possibility will not last forever.
The Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament had put forward the motion to recognize the independence of the so-called Donbas and Luhansk People’s Republic. This would mean an end to the Minsk agreements and possibly a war.