Ukraine Crisis Risks Escalating Amid Stalled Talks, Rising Hostility

by Yang Sheng and Xu Yelu, published on Global Times, April 13, 2022

The Chinese draw attention to an inherent schism in the understanding of the two forces in Ukraine, a dangerous misunderstanding that prevents successful negotiation. [jb]

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the situation in Ukraine “a tragedy” and peace talks had reached a “dead end” in his meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, asserting that economic sanctions imposed on Russia by nations around the world have “failed” and he had no intention of pulling back from a military campaign.

Western media reported that Russia is planning a new operation to end or make significant progress in its military operation in Ukraine by May 9, Victory Day, to celebrate the former Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, with a decisive battle in east Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Chinese analysts said on Tuesday that the positive trend achieved by previous peace talks in Turkey was ruined, and the West and Ukraine are likely to miscalculate Russia, making negotiations hard to restart.

The redeployment of Russian troops in east Ukraine after Russia announced it would reduce military activities around Kiev could be a signal that Russia is preparing for a new massive operation, because the newly emerging incidents, like the alleged “massacre” in Bucha widely hyped by Western media but still with no conclusions from an international independent investigation, have increased hostility between the two sides, and they almost have no more room to compromise to reach a ceasefire, said experts.

After the latest round of Russia-Ukraine talks in Turkey last month, Ukraine’s leaders said they’re willing to accept a formal neutral status for the country, ruling out NATO membership and accepting some constraints on its military, in exchange for an end to the war.

But Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar told media on Thursday that seeking NATO membership is a goal in the constitution of the country, and this is not going to be changed. In other words, Ukraine has changed its tone after the peace talks and returned to toughness.

The more dangerous sign is that with the support and incitement of the West, Ukraine is getting more and more confident to realize its goal through military measures instead of peace talks, and the West and Kiev are likely to miscalculate Russia as they might believe Moscow is losing and unable to continue the operation. This would cause an escalation of the current conflict, military analysts noted.

Intense situation

Ukraine said on Monday it expects Russia to begin an offensive soon in the eastern Donbas region, Reuters reported. The Financial Times also reported that signs that Russia is nearing a significant new offensive in eastern Ukraine mounted on Monday as

“US defense officials reported that troops withdrawn from Kiev and the surrounding areas were being resupplied and reinforced by the Kremlin for redeployment in the Donbas region.”

On March 26, Russia said it will focus its military operation in Ukraine on “liberating” the east, signaling a possible shift in its strategy as Russia declared the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been carried out. US media Axios also reported that “the next four weeks” — leading up to an annual Victory Day celebration in Moscow — are a crucial and intensely dangerous period in Russia’s war on Ukraine, said US officials and others familiar with Russian military history.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the conflict has turned into a temporary stalemate, and this is “a moment that the two sides could easily make miscalculations.”

From Moscow’s perspective, it doesn’t consider it’s losing and it’s able to redeploy its troops for new missions and has an advantage; but from Kiev’s perspective, it views Russia is losing and withdrawing, so Ukrainian troops’ morale is rising and the West will strengthen their support as well, Cui noted, stressing that “this is an extremely sensitive moment, and once a serious miscalculation occurs, the conflict would escalate.”

The Ukrainian government recently invited multiple Western leaders to the country to show more support, and Kiev is trying to show that it has gained an advantage over Russian offensives around the capital, and Western elites are now considering providing Ukraine with more heavy weapons including tanks and fighter jets. This shows that the West and Ukraine are getting more and more confident as they believe Russia is going to lose, said analysts.

But the facts might be different from what the West and Kiev expect. Russia has suffered limited damage from battles in Ukraine and Western sanctions, and Russian troops remained powerful compared to Ukrainian forces, and Moscow is able to launch another offensive in Donbas, said Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, noting that “the West is actually trying to instigate a massive battle in east Ukraine to escalate conflict and to make Russia suffer  while Ukraine keeps bleeding.”

The West will lose nothing and could even sell more weapons to make profit, but the people in Ukraine will definitely be the victims, and more casualties would occur, Song noted.

Difficult to restart talks

Chinese analysts believe that at this stage, negotiations are unlikely to restart because the West, especially the NATO, keeps adding fuel to the fire. Cui said weapons supplied by NATO to Ukraine are getting more and more offensive rather than defensive, and how Russia evaluates this trend is significant.

“If Russia tolerates these weapons supplies, its cost will increase and the situation will get more and more unfavorable. But if Russia decides to stop the foreign weapon supplies to Ukraine, it could target NATO members and the conflict would escalate,” Cui said.

Poland, a NATO member and a country that borders Ukraine, is getting more and more actively  involved in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Song noted that Poland is playing the role of a transfer station to transport all Western-supplied weapons to Ukraine, and more dangerously, Poland has also engaged in frictions with Russia’s close ally Belarus.

According to euronews.com on Monday, Belarus’ border guards accused Polish forces of attacking them using a slingshot and “metal balls.”

Polish border authorities allegedly committed “illegal actions” at a checkpoint near the city of Brest, Belarus, the authority said. “On the night of April 10, Polish soldiers fired on the Belarusian road checkpoint Peschatka,” a statement from Belarus read.

These could lead to an escalation and would become a conflict between Russia and NATO, Song noted.

Cui said talks between Russia and Ukraine are difficult, but talks between NATO and Russia, or the US and Russia, are necessary, because Ukraine can’t offer what Russia wants or effectively solve Russia’s security concerns, and if the US and Russia could reach an agreement on NATO expansion, an escalation could be avoid.

However, the possibility of such engagement is low because the US and NATO would like to see an escalation and they are confident in beating Russia, and this is why the situation is dangerous, said analysts.

*Featured Image: (Left to right, front) Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Roscosmos general director Dmitry Rogozin arrive by helicopter at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Photo: The Paper

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