Troops withdraw, but Putin still weighing options against West

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


Even as international onlookers take a small measure of encouragement from the withdrawal of thousands of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border, signs have emerged that tensions between Russia and NATO are far from over.

As first reported by the Associated Press, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russian state television Sunday that he would consider a bevy of options if NATO refused to acquiesce on a list of demands he submitted earlier this month.

“(It) could be diverse,” Putin said, later adding “it will depend on what proposals our military experts submit to me.”

The most pressing demands Russia has made is that NATO promises to not grant membership to Ukraine or place missiles within that nation’s borders.

“We have nowhere to retreat,” Putin said. “They have pushed us to a line that we can’t cross. They have taken it to the point where we simply must tell them: ‘Stop!’”

The West has not weighed in on the issue of missiles but has been resolute in its refusal to deprive Ukraine membership in NATO should that nation request it.

Importantly, were Ukraine to join NATO, the missile and weaponry question would likely be rendered moot. NATO has long maintained units and installations throughout Europe, with a particular interest in retaining a military presence as close to Russia as possible.

At present, according to its own maps, NATO has 14 deterrence and defense locations scattered among Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The nations of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia serve, albeit unwillingly, as a buffer zone between most of these NATO forces and Russia.

Ukraine is the largest of those nations by far, and its northeastern and eastern borders cut deep into the heartland of Russia.  Such topography would provide a massive strategic advantage to NATO were Ukraine to join and allow its territory to be used for other defense and deterrence installations.

Russia, though, is far from neutral in its dealings with Ukraine. In 2014, it annexed the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine’s southernmost territory and its doorway to the Black Sea.

Two days before Christmas, and three days before Putin’s Sunday remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held calls with both U.K. and NATO leadership regarding the situation in Ukraine.

Following Blinken’s call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, State Department spokesperson Ned Price wrote, “They discussed NATO’s dual-track approach to Russia, noting the Alliance remains ready for meaningful dialogue with Russia, while standing united to defend and protect Allies.”

On the same day, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Andriy Yermak, a Ukrainian administrator, that the U.S. had an “unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The return of 10,000 Russian troops to their permanent bases following months of maneuvers along the north, east, and southern borders of Ukraine was a promising sign, even if tens of thousands more troops remained within striking distance.

President Joe Biden has warned that Russia would face “severe consequences” if it attacks Ukraine. However, Putin has said his goal is protect his people from aggressions from the West and Ukraine.

“We have just one goal — to reach agreements that would ensure the security of Russia and its citizens now and in a long-term perspective,” Putin said Sunday.