As fears of a potential invasion of Ukraine continue to rise, the Kremlin’s top diplomat says that Russia has no intentions of starting a war.
Weeks after positioning tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern and northern borders in menacing fashion and putting the Western world on high alert, Moscow is taking aim at a moral high ground in negotiations with the U.S. and NATO. Attempting to paint the current predicament as a risk to Russian national security, Moscow has issued demands that Ukraine, and all other former Soviet bloc nations, never be permitted membership in NATO.
“There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation. We don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian news agencies on Friday. “But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”
While both NATO and Russia have publicly expressed a desire to avoid war, both sides have also drawn their line in the sand and are yet to reach any sort of agreement over Ukrainian sovereignty and Russia’s security interests.
“While they say they won’t change their positions, we won’t change ours,” Lavrov said. “I don’t see any room for compromise here.”
The security interests to which Lavrov refers have been at the center of escalating tensions between the West and Russia. While Russia ironically views Ukraine’s growing relationship with the West as a threat to their sovereignty, U.S. and NATO allies have refused to bend on Ukraine having a right to choose its own path, and this has been the most contentious issue of late.
“…We will uphold the principle of NATO’s open door,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday after the U.S. offered its official response to Russian demands, while also making it clear he speaks only for the U.S. and not all of NATO. “There is no change. There will be no change.”
Despite the predominantly ominous tone of the political staredown, there has been room for some optimism. Lavrov said the U.S. response included a willingness to discuss limitations on intermediate missiles, as well as restrictions on military drills, which could be a step in the right direction. The sticking point for Russia, according to Lavrov, is that NATO membership for Ukraine undermines Russia, and that international agreements dictate that one nation’s security must not come at the expense of another’s.
Lavrov’s assertion rings a bit hollow after Russia’s illegal military annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, however. Another significant hurdle that he cited is the increased presence of NATO troops and weapons in Eastern Europe. Their withdrawal is included as part of Moscow’s demands. This NATO buildup, however, all comes as a response to nearly 130,000 Russian troops massing along Ukraine’s borders in recent months, including deployment to Belarus, Russia’s ally and Ukraine’s neighbor to the north, only 50 miles from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
It is important to note that Russia is notorious for skillful management of narratives at best—and outright lying at worst—when it comes to foreign policy. Portraying themselves as the victim in the court of international opinion has undoubtedly been part of Moscow’s strategy since the crisis in Ukraine began.
On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert for possible deployment in the event that NATO chooses a military response or if their hand is forced by Russia. The State Department also ordered all family members of U.S. Embassy employees to return home. These measures could be taken as a sign that the threat of a Russian invasion is increasingly likely, as President Joe Biden and American intelligence officials have warned.
It should be noted, however, that Ukrainian officials, while certainly taking the situation seriously, have urged everyone to remain calm.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also told parliament that besides the Russian deployment of forces to Belarus, they “haven’t observed any events or actions of military character that significantly differ from what was going on last spring.” Referring to Russia’s massive military exercises in Southwest Russia in March and April of 2021, Reznikov noted that Russian troops pulled back then, as well.
While Reznikov’s optimism may not permeate throughout all of Ukraine’s government, war is still not a foregone conclusion.
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Feature image courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Defence