By Álvaro Peñas
The withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the disbanding of US forces and the abandonment of former Afghan “allies”, has undermined the credibility of the Joe Biden administration and aroused the worst fears of many allies, notably Ukraine. Only a few months ago, in April, tensions in the east and the mobilisation of Russian troops threatened to trigger an open war between Russia and Ukraine. Now the threat seems more credible: in addition to a significant increase in the number of Russian troops on the border, US intelligence agencies have warned that Russia is mobilising its reservists in what would be the biggest mobilisation since the collapse of the USSR.
The Minsk agreements signed in September 2014 by Russia, Ukraine and the separatists under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the subsequent Minsk-2 agreement of February 2015 involving Germany and France, were far from the end of the conflict. Artillery clashes, incursions, sniper fire, deaths and injuries occur on a daily basis in eastern Ukraine. For example, between 2 and 7 December, the Ukrainian army reported thirteen attacks by separatist forces on Ukrainian positions in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Mariupol sectors, in which one soldier was wounded and one killed. The only difference between the weeks is the number of attacks and casualties. According to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, this year there have actually been 442 ceasefire violations, of which 44 were explosions in the Donetsk region, and 178 violations, of which 78 were explosions in the Luhansk region.
The EU’s response to this new crisis was as expected, as it imposed economic sanctions against the Russian Government in the event of a conflict breaking out. Mr Biden, had a videoconference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, made a similar point: there will be sanctions, but nothing more. The US Congress has approved USD 300 million in aid to the Ukrainian armed forces, which still needs to be ratified by the Senate and signed by President Biden. In addition, according to Reuters, the US has agreed with Germany to close the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia attacks Ukraine. The strongest statements from the US side came from Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who accused Putin of trying to recreate the Soviet Union and warned that further aggression against Ukraine would cost “a lot of blood”.
Those who have to shed blood, the Ukrainians, have said that, of course, they will not accept any deal made behind their backs. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told Sky News after the talks between Biden and Ukrainian President Zelensky that he did not expect NATO troops on the ground because of the Russian threat, but that he expected military support from allies: “They [the US and other allies] can attack economically. We will fight on the ground. I’m sorry to say this, but a lot of Russian soldiers will be killed, and we hope that President Putin does not want that.
However, it is not only Ukraine that feels seriously threatened; the Baltic States and Poland are also watching with concern the moves of their former occupier. Moreover, in Poland, they know very well what happens when these allies turn their backs on them, which is why their government has decided to significantly reinforce its army. In October, Jarosław Kaczyński published a draft law on the defence of the homeland. At a press conference with Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, Kaczyński quoted the Roman maxim: “If you want peace, prepare for war”. The bill foresees an increase in the number of soldiers from the current 110,000 to 250,000, with an additional 50,000 in reserve, and the purchase of military equipment produced in the US (for example 250 M1 Abrahams tanks, which are due to arrive in Poland in 2022) and other European countries.
However, General Roman Polko, former commander of the special operations unit “Thunder”, said after the video conference between Biden and Putin that it was time for the West to take the initiative against “an aggressive Putin and his unpredictable subordinate Lukashenko”. According to the General, “we are on the brink of war and Ukraine deserves to open up its NATO membership programme and ensure its security. The US and the UK were guarantors of Ukraine’s security during the annexation of Crimea.” The military’s statements may seem exaggerated, but the “hybrid war” launched by Belarus against Poland and the Baltic States, which has sent thousands of migrants to its borders, has sounded the alarm. There have also been incidents, such as the one at the beginning of November, when Polish soldiers spotted three uniformed people armed with rifles 200 metres from the border on Polish territory. When they were discovered, they returned to the Belarusian side. General Polko referred to them as “men in green”. In 2014, Russian soldiers who entered Crimea and occupied the territory did not wear Russian flags or other insignia and were described as “men in green”.
This is why the Baltic States and Poland have strengthened their ties, as we have seen in the deployment of Estonian troops on the Polish border and in political and military cooperation with Ukraine. On Thursday, the Lithuanian Minister of National Defence, Arvydas Anušauskas, handed over the first part of a consignment of military aid to Ukraine. The day before, the 11th Parliamentary Assembly of the Lublin Triangle (Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland) was held in Warsaw to discuss the Russian military build-up on the border with Ukraine and the artificial migration crisis created by Lukashenko. Next Thursday, Poland and the Baltic States, together with the other Visegrad countries, Romania and Bulgaria, are expected to discuss with Joe Biden the complex situation in the East.
With the West more concerned with gender issues, LGBTQ ideology and climate hysteria than with defending its borders, the chances of victory in this and all future conflicts are rather slim. They say that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it; it would be good if we did not forget the Romans.