The Budapest Memorandum, signed on 05 December 1994 by Ukraine, the U.S., Russia, and Britain, resulted in Ukraine renouncing its status as the world’s third largest nuclear power. In return, the other signatories provided “security assurances” of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, independence, sovereignty and freedom from interference. The Budapest memorandum committed Washington, Moscow and London, among other things, to “respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine” and to “refrain from the threat or use of force” against that country. The United Kingdom and United States continue to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Russo-Ukraine War - 2021
The year 2021 brought the worst regional security situation in years. Putin wants Russia to be a peer on par with the United States, with a sphere of influence in Europe, but Putin had many reasons to be concerned about Russia’s sphere of influence. Russia accused Ukraine of preparing an all-out attack against Russian-backed militants in the east. Ukraine, the United States and NATO accused Russia of trying to justify a new outbreak of war. If Ukraine can take back Donbass by force it would boost the credibility of the government, although if it loses Donbass in the war it would make Ukraine more ethnoculturally homogenous. If Ukraine gave up Donbass the Russian-friendly part of Ukraine's population would be reduced and unable to win elections. In contrast, a negotiated settlement in Donbass would entail autonomy that limits both the cultural authority of Kiev and its aspirations of joining NATO. Polls find that even after seven years of war, only 41% want to join NATO, and 49% want membership in the EU. A survey from 2020 suggested that 49% of Ukrainians had a “good” or “very good” opinion of Russia.
There were several reasons Moscow decided go for broke in relations with the West. Putin may have become a prisoner of his own propaganda, believing that the various wonder-weapons he had announced a few years earlier gave Russia a usable advantage in the competition with America. He clearly believed that time was not on his side, repeatedly claiming that American deployment in eastern Ukraine of weapons capable of striking Moscow within a few minutes was just a matter of time, and virtuallly an accomplished fact.
The election of Biden, the de facto curator of Ukraine in 2014-2016, who took a tougher stance towards Russia than Obama, did not bode well for Moscow. In March 2021, Putin fired back at American counterpart Joe Biden's accusation that he's a killer, saying “it takes one to know one". By August 2021, Putin may have assessed that the shambolic American withdrawal from Afghanistan reflected Biden's weakness, either perceived or actual.
The year 20221 witnessed the final collapse of hopes for a split in the EU, the positive role of Brexit and flirting with eurosceptics. The emphasis of the new American administration on strengthening transatlantic relations, the creation of a coalition government in Germany with Moscow-critical green ministers of foreign affairs (Burbock) and economics (Habek), the resignation of the flexible Austrian chancellor Kurz, the toughening of the rhetoric of Paris made it clear - and in the European direction, the window of opportunity was rapidly closing.
The slowdown of Nord Stream-2 took on a "chronic" character. A careful reading of the agreements between Washington and Berlin left no doubt that the outgoing Merkel would be allowed to complete the gas pipeline only to be further used as an instrument of pressure on Russia. The project, which was supposed to play a key role in Russia's energy policy in Europe, was frozen until "better" times.
The collapse of Moscow's hopes for positive changes in the position of Kiev under Zelensky included the inability to negotiate on the issue of the Minsk agreements. Numerous attempts to broker an end to the conflict had been unsuccessful as various ceasefire agreements – commonly referred as Minsk I and II - were largely ignored. In September 2014, the Russian Federation signed the Minsk I Protocol, which called for an immediate ceasefire and effective monitoring by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Following the fragile Minsk I ceasefire agreement, signed by the Ukrainian government and separatists in September 2014, fighting in the East intensified in the winter months. On 11 February 2015, after the failure of the initial Minsk Protocol, the Russian Federation signed the Minsk II Protocol, a package of security and political measures negotiated by Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia to address the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Minsk II was a victor’s peace, imposed by Russia, the fruits of armed aggression. Minsk II again called for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, and effective monitoring by the OSCE. The Minsk II agreement involved the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, amnesty for prisoners involved in fighting, and the lifting of restrictions in rebel areas of Ukraine. Though fighting generally subsided after the ceasefire came into effect, skirmishes and shelling continued in several parts of the conflict zone.
As specified by Minsk II, in March 2015, the Parliament of Ukraine approved a law granting “special status” for the occupied territories. Representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics said that the law was a “one-sided” modification to Minsk II and that the agreement had been rendered void by this modification. Russian, Ukrainian, and European representatives reaffirmed their commitment to the Minsk agreements at the 2017 Munich Security Conference.
In September 2021, the US House Armed Services Committee called on the Pentagon to prepare a report on how to help Kiev close its air and missile defense gaps. This means even more weapons. Soon, Ukraine may receive a portable air defense Stinger or even an Iron Dome missile defense system to protect against short-range missiles. In addition, Kiev asked Washington to provide them with Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Since 2015, Russia had conscripted 28,000 residents of Crimea. They have stationed at least 32,500 military personnel in Crimea and deployed advanced weaponry and missile warning systems there. We are concerned by reports that there are currently 13 Kalibr missile capable vessels in service in the Black Sea Fleet, with a further 11 being built. Moreover, Belbek Airfield near Sevastopol has been lengthened, specifically for military use. Other military bases, radar stations and S-400 sites continue to be built.
Residents of Donetsk and Luhansk still suffer routine shelling of their neighborhoods; soldiers from both sides of the line continue to fire at each other; and soldiers continue to be wounded and even die in the conflict. But it’s still considered a “low-level” simmering conflict. Polls suggest that since around 2019 an outright majority of the LDNR wants direct union with Russia (< 10% want independent, 12% want reintegration into Ukraine). The region is increasingly integrated into Russia de facto. The official language is Russian. The currency is the ruble. LDNR residents have access to Sputnik V, while Ukrainians don’t.
In the period from February to the end of April, an absolutely unprecedented wave of hysteria was whipped up in the foreign information field on the topic of the expected Russian invasion of Ukraine. This was due to a surprise check of the combat readiness of the Russian army, carried out in the Southern and Western military districts.
The situation in Donbass deteriorated in late February, when shellings were recorded in the regions nearly every day, including with the use of mortars and grenade launchers. The sides traded blame for the deterioration. On 19 February 2021 st the session of the Council of National Defense and Security of Ukraine, unprecedented sanctions laid out upon Opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk. And Defense Secretary Alexei Danilov, who also functions as the Secretary of the Council, declared that every Ukrainian officer at the front has the right to make the autonomous decision whether to “return fire”. Which, in essence, contradicts the terms of the truce agreed upon between the Ukraine and the Donbass Republics. In other words, on that day Kiev, in effect, pulled out from the conditions of the ceasefire.
US President Joe Biden said on 26 February 2021 that Washington would never recognise Crimea Annexation by Russia. "The United States does not and will never recognise Russia's purported annexation of the peninsula, and we will stand with Ukraine against Russia's aggressive acts," Biden said in a statement. He promised to continue working to hold Russia accountable for alleged abuses and aggression in Ukraine.
Kiev forces continuously increased the rate and intensity of artillery strikes and attacks on positions of self-defense forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR). These actions triggered a series of clashes between pro-Kiev forces and DPR/LPR self-defense units. In several cases, DPR and LPR responded with counter-battery fire and other active actions to neutralize the aggressors. At the same time, local sources report that the scale of violations by pro-Kiev forces are unprecedented for the recent months and local self-defense units still respond to ceasefire violations not enough (because they respect the ceasefire regime).
Since February 2021, a question has been coming up regularly among observers of Ukrainian political life: how far will the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, go in his offensives against Russia and his supporters in the country? Theose of March 19 imposed sanctions against Viktor Yanukovych and political figures of the time of the authoritarian former president ousted in 2014 by the “Maidan revolution”. While the ceasefire that entered into force in July 2020 wavered for a few weeks in eastern Ukraine, the executive was active on another front: cleansing Ukraine of those it considers defending Moscow's interests. Driven by low polls and a favorable geopolitical climate, the Ukrainian president has taken in recent weeks a series of unprecedented measures against the relays of Moscow in his country, including the closure of three television channels.
On 04 March 2020, Russian president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov stated the Ukrainian side should remain a supporter of the Minsk agreements, and expressed “concern” about the rising tension along the contact line in the Donbass. Meanwhile, several reports appeared that the Kiev government was deploying additional units of heavy weapons and military equipment to the contact line. These reports were confirmed by OSCE reports. The OSCE SMM reported that for about a week the 19 T-72 battle tanks, 64 T-64 battle tanks, and over 100 units of artillery systems ‘disappeared’ from storage sites of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. These equipment and weapons were moved to the contact line, according to DPR and LPR sources.
On 01 March 2021 the US Department of Defense announced a new $125 million package for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative that includes training, equipment, and advisory efforts to help Ukraine's forces preserve the country's territorial integrity, secure its borders, and improve interoperability with NATO. The package included two armed Mark VI patrol boats to help Ukraine "patrol and defend its territorial waters. The package also includes capabilities to enhance the lethality, command and control, and situational awareness of Ukraine's forces through the provision of additional counter-artillery radars and tactical equipment; continued support for a satellite imagery and analysis capability; and equipment to support military medical treatment and combat evacuation procedures.
UK Ambassador Neil Bush spoke about Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 at the OSCE Permanent Council 04 March 2021 : "The UK does not and will not recognise Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. We condemn Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. We call on Russia in the strongest terms to respect international law and OSCE principles and commitments and to return Crimea to its rightful place under Ukrainian government control. Until they do so, their actions will continue to have consequences, including through a robust package of sanctions. Crimea is Ukraine."
Ukrainian Defense Secretary Alexei Danilov said that his guys had no plans to attack the Donbass: “The Russian side is spreading disinformation claiming that the Ukraine, either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, is going to launch an offensive and capture Donetsk and Luhansk. This has no relationship to reality. This is the kind of psychological attack they are waging.” Ukrainian social media are filled with video images noting the movement of Ukrainian railway cars transporting tanks. Monitors for The Organization For Security And Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had confirmed Ukrainian deployment of a significant amount of armor.
Retired Colonel Viktor Baranets, interviewed by Komsomolskaya Pravda, recalled Putin’s words "If Kiev were to unleash a punitive operation in the Donbass, then Ukraine might find itself deprived of its own sovereignty. But I have heard even harsher words from our military strategists: “If that were to happen, the state border of the Ukraine will be along the Dniepr River.” So, what are the variants here? With the assistance of Russia, the Donbass will be able to push the Ukrainian troops back beyond their current administrative borders (including Mariupol, Slavyansk and Severodonetsk), and at that point the military operations will cease. And this will automatically mean that Donetsk and Luhansk will part, forever, with the Ukraine. And then, after the request of the DPR and LPR governments, Russian military bases will appear there with full official permission. Also, in the course of the war, it could happen that those [Ukrainian] oblasts which trend most towards Russia, may also request to be incorporated into the Russian Federation…"
On 11 March 2021, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated the Ukrainian government had approved "the Strategy for Deoccupation & Reintegration of Crimea, a historic document needed since 2014. The signal is crystal clear: we don’t just call on the world to help us return Crimea, Ukraine makes own dedicated & systemic efforts under Zelenskyy’s leadership..."
According to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, by 16 March 2021 the command of the RF Armed Forces was provoking increased tensions in the temporarily occupied territory in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Thus, the units and parts of the first and second army corps of the operational group of the Russian occupation forces were brought to the highest degree of combat readiness. The personnel of the enemy were withdrawn from vacations, the persons who were in medical institutions were sent to the places of service ahead of schedule, and ammunition was replenished by the advanced units. At the same time, rumors were spreading among the occupiers and the local population about the possibility of hostilities with their possible escalation into a full-scale military conflict during the March 17-18 events in Crimea on the anniversary of the occupation of the peninsula by Russian top state and military leaders.
The conflicting sides blamed the aggravation of the situation on each other. Russian President Vladimir Putin held a video conference with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 30. In particular, he expressed concern that Kiev had destabilized the situation in Donbass.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia on 01 April 2021 of whipping up tensions as NATO voiced concern about what it said was a Russian military build-up near eastern Ukraine. Unverified social media footage has suggested Russia has been moving large quantities of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other equipment to regions that border Ukraine, as well as to Crimea. Ukrainian and US officials reported Russian troop movement in these regions, near territories controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. But David Ignatius at the Washington Post reported Pentagon officials saw the Russian deployments (reportedly some 4000 troops) as “evidence of a training operation, rather than preparations for an invasion” of Ukraine. The Russian military deployments appeared out of cycle for exercises, and were not regular troop rotations.
United States President Joe Biden used a first official phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on 02 April 2021 to offer staunch support in Ukraine’s standoff over Russian forces near its border. The conversation came after Western nations and transatlantic military alliance NATO voiced concern over Russian troop movements near the eastern Donbass region. Russia said that an escalation in Donbass could “destroy” Ukraine and warned against any NATO deployment.
On 02 April 2021, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that it had received guarantees of American support after a telephone call with Washington’s top military official, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austen. “The US Secretary of Defense stressed that in the event of an escalation of Russian aggression, the United States will not leave Ukraine alone,” the Ministry said.
Russia warned that it would regard any deployment of Western troops in Ukraine as a serious provocation, after Kiev asked NATO to step up its local combat readiness and claimed the US would come to its aid in any future war. Kremlin spokepam Dmitry Peskov warned that this could begin a potentially dangerous chain of events. The Kremlin official said that “undoubtedly, such a developing scenario would lead to a further increase in tensions near Russia’s borders. Of course, this will require additional measures from the Russian side to ensure its security.”
On 06 April 2021, Zelenskyy told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that NATO was “the only way to end the war in Donbas” and that the membership action plan would be “a real signal for Russia”. A few hours later, Russian defence minister Sergey Shoygu ordered a combat readiness check for the whole Russian army.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to withdraw troops from Ukraine's borders on 13 April 2021. Stoltenberg's comments came ahead of an emergency meeting of allied foreign and defense ministers over the conflict in the eastern Ukraine region. "In recent weeks, Russia has moved thousands of combat-ready troops to Ukraine's borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014," Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Stoltenberg said Russian troops' movement at Ukraine's borders was "unexplained, unjustified and deeply concerning." "Russia must end this military buildup in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and deescalate immediately," Stoltenberg said.
The Kremlin accused the United States and other NATO countries of turning Ukraine into a "powder keg." Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said "If there is any aggravation, we of course will do everything to ensure our security and the safety of our citizens, wherever they are... . But Kyiv and its allies in the West will be entirely responsible for the consequences of a hypothetical exacerbation".
As Moscow and Washington were heading to an increasingly tough standoff, US President Joe Biden made a phone call to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on 13 April 2021 to discuss strategic stability issues, and suggested they should meet in a third country. It is very important for Biden to make it clear that he is capable of acting in a tougher and more decisive manner than former US President Barack Obama, whose words often times did not match his deeds. Putin and Biden addressed a wide range of issues, including arms control, climate change and the situation in eastern Ukraine. The White House record said the US president “voiced concerns over the sudden Russian military build-up” in Crimea, while calling on Moscow “to de-escalate tensions.”
Analysis of open-source material by the global intelligence company Janes has identified tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, long-range artillery, rocket launchers, and Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems among the materiel that has been moved to the area since mid-March. U.S. and NATO officials have called it the largest military buildup in the region since Russia's surprise occupation of Crimea and the start of fighting in the Donbas. Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran told the European Parliament that Russia would ultimately have 110,000 troops within 56 tactical battalions at its disposal in Crimea and near Ukraine's borders, saying the built-up force could be used for “unpredictable, escalatory actions.” Approximately 40,000 troops were initially stationed on Crimea, and another 50,000 near Voronezh. Russia has amassed more than 150,000 troops along its western border with Ukraine and in annexed Crimea in recent weeks, the European Union’s top diplomat said on 19 April 2021 after a briefing from Ukraine’s foreign minister.
Pentagon spokesman said 19 April 2021 the Russian military buildup near Ukraine was larger than the one in 2014. This was going further than the United States has before. Until now, the Biden administration was saying it was the largest since 2014. US officials said that the buildup is in the tens of thousands but for now had not seen intelligence that indicated the more than 150,000 Russian troops number that EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell disclosed.
The weather was not yet optimal to launch an attack. The grounds were still soggy and would hinder heavy weapon movements. The chance for war would increase towards the beginning of May. Russia's Southern Military District, the command unit with responsibility for areas near the border with the Donbas and the North Caucasus, announced it was conducting an annual readiness check, with several dozen related exercises being held between March 29 and April 30. The district also technically oversees Russia's military command for Crimea. More than 70 Ukrainian military personnel had been killed and several hundred wounded in the first three months 2020. According to Ukraine, the conflict has killed at least 14,000 people since 2014.
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