Putin Launches His Invasion of Ukraine


Europe is descending into war. In a brazen challenge to Ukraine’s independence, Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops, tanks, and artillery into two separatist regions—Donetsk and Luhansk—hours after unilaterally recognizing them as independent countries and declaring them allies. “This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” President Biden said, on Tuesday. Putin, he warned, is now “setting up a rationale to go further.” Biden, who announced the first tranche of U.S. sanctions on Russia in retaliation, appeared outraged as he called Putin’s moves “bizarre” and a clear violation of international law. “Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors?” he asked. Biden also announced that he is sending U.S. troops to shore up the three Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—former Soviet republics that have become nascent democracies and joined NATO. After meeting with the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Putin’s invasion “the greatest threat to security in Europe since World War Two.”

The White House had initially stopped short of formally declaring Putin’s opening military move an invasion, since it was not the anticipated air and cyber campaign to cripple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The first Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers instead quietly rolled into territory where residents—many of them Russian speakers with recently issued Russian passports—were seen on Russian media celebrating Putin’s announcement with fireworks. No troops crossed the border with guns blazing. “Putin has choreographed this with the hope that we and the Europeans will debate whether this is an ‘invasion’ or not,” John McLaughlin, the former deputy C.I.A. director, tweeted. “And hoping that throws us enough off balance that he will pay a minimal price for this first slice of salami.”

It may well be only the first phase. In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, Russia’s Federation Council—the upper house of parliament—gave Putin the right to use military force outside the country’s borders. U.S. officials believe Putin intends to use that power ambitiously, after his angry and meandering speech on Monday night claiming that modern Ukraine was “entirely created” by Russia. “Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space,” he said. The decision to allow nationalists in Ukraine to secede from the Soviet empire a century ago, he added, was “absolutely incomprehensible, even crazy.”

For now, Putin’s decision to invade has scuttled prospects of a diplomatic resolution between the U.S. and Russia. A meeting scheduled for Thursday between Blinken and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and a French-brokered summit between President Biden and Putin are off, Blinken announced on Tuesday. The door to diplomacy, however, has been shut but not locked, U.S. officials said. Any future meeting involving top American officials would require Russia to walk back its diplomatic and military aggression—which appears unlikely at the moment. “There’s still time to avert the worst-case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people if they move as suggested,” Biden said. “The United States and our allies and partners remain open to diplomacy, if it is serious when all is said and done. We’re gonna judge Russia by its actions, not its words.”

In further remarks on Tuesday, Putin said that Ukraine could defuse the tensions by promising never to join NATO, recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and demilitarizing. Ukraine’s democratically elected government, however, has been firm in its resolve to join NATO and the European Union in the future—a policy enshrined in a constitutional amendment in 2019. After Putin’s speech on Ukraine, Zelensky told his nation late Monday night, “We are not afraid of anyone or anything.”

Russia’s invasion derailed the process for resolving the conflict created by the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015. They established a ceasefire and two broad principles: the disputed eastern regions would remain in Ukraine but be granted greater autonomy as the basis for negotiations. “This decision amounts to a complete repudiation of Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, directly contradicts Russia’s claims that it is committed to diplomacy, and is a clear attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity—as well as the U.N. Charter,” the Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in Vienna, on Tuesday. She called any claim that the Russia troops were “peacekeepers” a lie. “We are on the precipice of a dark and dangerous era,” she warned. In a statement, Putin said that the Minsk peace deal “no longer exists, there is nothing to fulfill.”

The world scrambled to orchestrate a response. The U.S. imposed sanctions on two major banks—VEB and the Promsvyazbank—that are close to Putin and together have assets of more than eighty billion dollars. VEB is the “glorified piggy bank” for the Kremlin, while Promsvyazbank is a military bank involved in defense deals, a senior Administration official told reporters after Biden’s announcement. The sanctions also cover Russia’s sovereign debt—cutting the government off from Western financing or raising money from the West—and three Russian oligarchs as well as their families. But the U.S. notably did not sanction Putin. “This is the beginning of an invasion, and this is the beginning of our response,” the official said. “All options remain on the table.”

Other Western nations took punitive action against Moscow, albeit not the sweeping package that the U.S. and its allies have been discussing for weeks. In one of the most significant moves, Germany halted the Nord Stream 2 project, a pipeline of more than seven hundred and fifty miles that would supply gas from Russia to Europe. It was scheduled to provide badly needed energy for Germany and other American allies in Europe—the main reason that Berlin had long resisted leveraging the project to pressure Putin. Nord Stream 2 is run by a private company, but it has to be certified by the government. Russia’s eleven-billion-dollar investment will now “go to waste,” the senior Administration official said. It would have been a “cash cow” for Moscow. As a by-product, the decision “will relieve Russia’s geostrategic chokehold on Europe.”

The Ukraine crisis is expected to have a rippling impact on access to energy—and its prices—across Europe and even the U.S. because of supply-and-demand issues. Oil prices today jumped to almost a hundred dollars per barrel, a nearly eight-year high. The senior Administration official said that oil prices were rising not because of Nord Stream 2 but because Putin might “hold the world hostage.” But he also said that other gas suppliers are expected to step in to help sustain the world’s supply.

The twenty-seven nations in the European Union will also not sanction Putin personally, but will target banks, politicians, and officials and ban European investors from trade with Russia. Sanctioning banks limits their ability to trade internationally. “This package of sanctions that has been approved by unanimity by the member states will hurt Russia, and it will hurt a lot,” the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters in Paris.

The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, charged that Russia’s opening move was “a pretext for a full-scale offensive.” He warned Putin that the Russian President had “gravely miscalculated.” Britain imposed sanctions on five Russian banks—Rossiya Bank, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank, and the Black Sea Bank—as well as three Russian oligarchs with ties to energy.

In Putin’s hour-long speech on Monday, he raged about Western sanctions on Russia. “We are being blackmailed,” he said. “A new pretext will always be found or fabricated. Irrespective of the situation in Ukraine.” The single purpose behind sanctions, he declared, is “to keep Russia behind, to prevent it from developing.” Almost plaintively, he added, “Was it necessary to make an enemy out of us?”

The U.S. strategy now centers on preventing further Russian military action—basically deterrence—since Biden has repeatedly said that he will not send American forces to fight the Russians in Ukraine. A central goal is to protect Kyiv and the Zelensky government from falling. Military and regional experts have long predicted that Putin’s goal was to take roughly the eastern half of the country, from the Dnieper River. Russia also reportedly has created a target list of top officials and activists to kill or send to prison camps.

In his remarks, Biden warned Putin, “None of us will be fooled.” But can Putin be stopped? “We should try,” William Taylor, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine who is now at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told me. “He will not stop until somebody stops him, and you stop him by slamming sanctions on him and demonstrating that our resolve is strong”—and will extract a stiff price. “It may work, and it may not,” he said. “It’s up to Putin.”





Source link