Russia: Expert discusses tensions with Ukraine
Russia has for the past two weeks built up a sizable military presence to the east and south of Ukraine. There are an estimated 80,000 troops in the border region which has grabbed the attention of the global political stage. It is not entirely clear why Russia has amassed a number of military personnel and vehicles in the area, although the country claims to have been “provoked” into it.
World leaders have condemned the act noting that it is the country’s biggest performance of military belligerence since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
It was then that Russia, unprovoked, swarmed into what was part of Ukraine, sparking fury from the now-US President.
While the EU and NATO have this time round pledged their support for Ukraine and urged Russia to step down, it was a different story seven years ago.
This was much to the dismay of then US Vice President Joe Biden, who, writing in his 2017 memoir, ‘Promise Me, Dad’, voiced outrage at the lack of action from the bloc and its leaders.
Joe Biden: The US President previously described the EU’s efforts as ‘hopeless’
Russia: Ukrainian soliders pictured in the country’s border region with Russia
In the year after the annexation, Mr Biden focused his ire at German Chancellor Merkel who had, he said, taken too lenient a stance on Russia and its dealings in Ukraine.
In 2015, pro-Russian separatists were wreaking havoc in Ukraine and Putin’s tanks circled the border.
Writing in his memoir, Mr Biden noted: “Putin was willing to test European resolve on the principle of sanctity of borders ‒ and he was doing it with impunity in Ukraine.”
At the time, the Munich Conference was approaching, and Mr Biden sought to use the event to encourage European allies to stand with the US and Ukraine in a bid to make sure Mr Putin understood what was at stake.
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He said Mrs Merkel was “on record worrying about a confrontation in Ukraine which risks spiralling out of control”.
Mr Biden felt compelled to organise a three-way meeting with himself, Mrs Merkel and Ukraine’s then President Petro Poroshenko.
He recalled: “Merkel had a phone call with Putin scheduled for the next day.
“I wanted to be there at Poroshenko’s side to make sure Merkel understood that the US remained ready to stand tough for him and his nation’s borders.”
But when Mrs Merkel addressed the Munich Security Conference, her speech “was not strong enough” for Mr Biden and her “flat refusal” to provide weapons to Ukraine “disappointed” the US delegation.
Ordering his team to revise his speech, Mr Biden vowed to take a much tougher than previously agreed stance.
When he met Mrs Merkel with Mr Poroshenko at his side, his disappointment made a row inevitable.
He added: “Putin was the bad actor here, the Chancellor assured Poroshenko, but she nonetheless pressed him to construct some sort of off-ramp for Putin.
“She was looking for concessions to take to Putin in her meeting with him the next day.
“She believed he needed to claim a victory. The term she used for what Putin needed was: ‘A face-saving way out.'”
Later on, he recalled a conversation he had with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, shortly after the country’s vast protests, the Dignity Revolution, in 2014.
His main concern was ensuring Ukraine maintained its sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.
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Crimea: Ukrainian soldiers defending the city of Sevastopol in 2014
Vladmir Putin: Putin attends a ceremony in March to mark the 7th anniversary of Crimea’s annexation
However, he was not convinced that Brussels, given its relative silence on the issue, would offer any help.
Mr Biden wrote: “The European Union and NATO were likely to abandon Ukraine as a hopeless cause.
“The country would be pulled back into Russia’s toxic orbit.
“The revolution of Dignity would come to nothing.”
He continued to urge the EU to defend Ukraine, however and his efforts eventually led to the bloc coming to Ukraine’s rescue.
Describing the Dignity Revolution as a “remarkable people’s protest”, Mr Biden said: “Ukrainians seemed about to lose their fight for democracy and independence.
“Putin had used the instability of the unfolding revolution as an opportunity to seize, by military force, a part of Ukraine called Crimea.”
Soviet Union: Russia had a significant sphere of influence during its Soviet era
Now President, Mr Biden has taken similar action amid Russia’s present-day position on Ukraine.
On Tuesday, he demanded that Mr Putin de-escalate tensions in the region.
According to the White House, Mr Biden, in a phone call with Mr Putin, pressed him on Russia’s military buildup, saying that he “emphasised the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
This was after he had risked further escalating tensions when he described Mr Putin as being a “killer” during a recent interview with ABC News.
He told the broadcaster that the Russian President is “going to pay, you’ll see shortly”.
Angela Merkel: The German Chancellor last week urged Putin to withdraw his troops from the border
Prior to this, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “I have to tell you I have real concerns about Russia’s actions on the borders of Ukraine.
“That’s why we’re in very close contact, in close coordination, with our allies and partners in Europe. All of us share that concern.”
He added: “President Biden’s been very clear about this. If Russia acts recklessly, or aggressively, there will be costs, there will be consequences.”
This time, Mr Biden has not been forced to galvanise the EU into action, after the bloc along with the UK last week pledged “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s government.
Mrs Merkel personally intervened after she called on Mr Putin to withdraw his troops from along the border.