Ukraine’s military intelligence warns that Kiev is being provoked into hostilities, and the Ministry of Defense talks about US guarantees “in the event of an escalation of Russian aggression.” In Moscow, rumors of a potential conflict are called fiction. Nevertheless, the media is constantly talking about the aggravation in Donbass. What is happening in the capitals and on the line of contact – RIA Novosti figured out.
Russia is not interested
On the evening of Friday, April 2, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskiy finally recieved a call from Washington – the head of the American state, Joe Biden, spoke to him. The question of when the telephone conversation will take place was probably the most discussed in Ukrainian politics in recent days. The White House resident told his colleague that Washington will continue to support Kiev “in the face of Russian aggression in the Donbass and Crimea.”
Biden also said that the United States will help preserve “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The long-awaited conversation was preceded by telephone conversations between the leaders of Russia, Germany and France, the Russian, American and Ukrainian military. The topic is the aggravation in Donbass, which the media and officials have been talking about for several months.
On April 1, the Ukrainian military intelligence, as usual, “informed” that Russia was preparing a whole “set of measures” to induce Kiev to a “military response.” They did not explain what these events were, but added that Russian diplomats and the media would cover them, as well as “the allegedly aggressive actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
The deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Andrei Rudenko, noted that a potential clash between the two countries is a fiction: “Russia is not interested in any conflict with Ukraine, let alone a military one.” The diplomat hopes that Kiev “will show prudence and refrain from provocative steps.”
Back in February, the Ukrainian commander-in-chief Ruslan Khomchak said that the Armed Forces of Ukraine (APU) were going to attack in 2020. “We have begun preparing all combat military units for operations in an offensive in urbanized areas,” he said.
And already at the end of March, the commander-in-chief again confirmed that the Armed Forces intend to attack. “We are creating training bases, partners are helping us. Because there is no other way. If you ask if we are ready today, yes, we are,” Khomchak said.
He also said that the Ukrainian army is being held back only by possible civilian casualties. “The problem is not in the order. The president does not have such problems,” the commander-in-chief assured. “You just need to calculate the consequences, forces, reserves, and capabilities of the state. Donetsk is a city of many millions. If we go on the offensive, there are risks that the civilian population will die.”
Not long before that, Zelenskiy had approved a military doctrine. It describes a scenario that Kiev convinces the people of Ukraine that is realistic. A likely event is called “the escalation of the Russian Federation’s armed aggression against Ukraine through military operations with decisive actions” accompanied by information and psychological operations. The option of “deploying a resistance movement in the event of a temporary occupation of certain territories of the state” is also envisaged.
“Four” for three
At the end of the month, Khomchak made a report to the Verkhovna Rada – he talked about the movements of Russian troops near the Ukrainian borders and about the size of the Donbass militia. Journalists remembered the commander-in-chief’s speech by the reaction of one of the parliamentarians. The correspondent of the Bukva edition photographed how Anna Kolesnik, a deputy from the Servant of the People faction, who was sitting in the session hall, typed a message on the phone: “We must get out of this country.”
The deputy tried to justify herself on social networks – they say, it was only about the May holidays. But then I deleted the post with the explanations.
On Wednesday, March 31, the Americans connected. Gen. Mark Millie, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, spoke by telephone with the head of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and then with Khomchak. KNS representative Dave Butler informed about the conversation between Millie and Gerasimov rather sparingly: “We exchanged views on issues of mutual interest.”
As for the conversation with Khomchak, the explanation was just as short – “We discussed the current security situation in Eastern Europe.” At the same time, the Pentagon said that they were concerned about the tensions in the Donbass, and blamed Moscow on it. “All of this, including the violation of the July 2020 ceasefire, resulted in the death of four Ukrainian soldiers on March 26 and the injury of two more,” said US military spokesman John Kirby.
At first, he did not want to open up whether Milli and Gerasimov were talking about Donbass or not, but then nevertheless conceded: “We can assume that this topic was raised.”
The situation in Donbass was also discussed in a format that could be called “Norman”, but this time Kiev did not participate. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. According to the Kremlin press service, the leaders of the three countries have confirmed that there is no alternative to the 2015 Minsk Package of Measures as the basis for resolving the internal conflict in the country.
The Russian president expressed concern over the “Ukraine-provoked escalation of the armed confrontation on the line of contact” and the de facto rejection of the ceasefire. “One way or another, the Ukrainian side can take actions that will lead to war. Of course, I really would not like to see this,” said the press secretary of the head of state Dmitry Peskov. He stressed that the talks between Putin, Merkel and Macron are not a substitute for the “Normandy format”, and added that the range of topics was not limited to Ukraine.
Indeed, in the message, for example, of the German Foreign Ministry, in the first place is cooperation in the field of vaccines and the study of the Russian “Sputnik V” by the European Medicines Agency. Mentioned also Belarus, Libya, Syria and Iran.
Following the meeting, Paris expressed some optimism: “We do not believe there will be an escalation, but we remain vigilant.”
Another telephone conversation was held by the head of the US military department Lloyd Austin with his Ukrainian counterpart Andrey Taran. “The US Secretary of Defense stressed that in the event of an escalation of Russian aggression, the United States will not leave Ukraine without support and will not allow the implementation of Russia’s aggressive aspirations,” they commented on the conversation in Kiev.
Draw your swords and attack
An employee of the headquarters of one of the Ukrainian politicians, Nikolai V. (the last name was not indicated at his request) talks about the opinion that reigns in the power corridors of Kiev. “The curators told Zelenskiy to seize Donbass. But he understands perfectly well that the task is impossible. Therefore, they are letting down the troops, preparing an offensive. The Americans are interested in Zelenskiy to run forward with a saber, get in the teeth, roll back, and in Europe they gasped: oh, sovereign again Ukraine is being offended, and then the construction of Nord Stream 2 may be suspended.
According to Nikolai, after the completion of the pipeline, talk of an escalation of tensions in eastern Ukraine will come to naught. And Kiev, in fact, does not want aggravation: “The president’s office rang the bell on social networks about military preparations. Tanks were openly transported, they drove echelons. They specially organized a stir so that there was no offensive.”
And yet, he does not exclude the possibility of aggravation: “Zelenskiy can be put under a stick, they will put the commissar behind and say – to attack!”
Ukrainian political strategist Andriy Zolotarev explains why the escalation of tension is convenient for the authorities: “The search for enemies begins, those who disagree can be called separatists and accomplices of the aggressor, and under the guise of doing business as usual – the development of state funds.”
Martial law, as in 2018 under Petro Poroshenko, has not yet been announced, but this method of achieving political goals is not alien to his successors. “On the issue of war and peace, alas, the current government is not far behind its predecessors,” Zolotarev notes.
However, the expert emphasizes, the leadership of the republic realizes: a full-scale war will become suicide. Someone is pushing Kiev to aggravate the Donbass, while Ukrainian politicians are acting according to a familiar scheme – they simulate preparations for an offensive.