Russia and Ukraine Tensions Continue To Rise
Tensions have recently heightened in Eastern Europe as Russian troop movement near the Ukrainian border has sparked worry over the possibility of invasion. Russia has been moving troops closer to Ukraine for months, but estimates of the current number of soldiers stationed at the border vary. At a press briefing last Friday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley stated that over 100,000 troops were amassed near the Ukrainian border. According to reports from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, released exclusively through CNN on January 19, intelligence approximates the presence of over 106,000 ground troops and over 21,000 sea and air forces for a total military presence of upwards of 127,000 soldiers.
Conflict has been brewing in the region for some time. Ukraine officially became an independent state in December of 1991 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. In 2014 Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea. A cease-fire has been in place since then, but Ukraine has continually battled with pro-Russian separatist forces in the disputed eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. According to the Global Conflict Tracker, at least 10,300 people have died in clashes between the Ukrainian military and separatists since April 2014.
In December 2021 Russia published a draft of security guarantees demanding that NATO commit to barring any Ukrainian petition to join the alliance. It also requires the withdrawal of military forces and weaponry from Eastern Europe to pre-1997 levels, as NATO membership expanded considerably in the following years. The US and NATO have rejected these demands. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the status of communications with Russia on January 26. He confirmed that John Sullivan, the US Ambassador to Russia, had delivered a response document to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that outlined the United States’ concerns and counter-proposals. Blinken affirmed a desire for a diplomatic resolution to the tension, stating “We’re open to dialogue, we prefer diplomacy, and we’re prepared to move forward where there is the possibility of communication and cooperation.” Nevertheless, the Biden Administration is still preparing for the possibility of invasion. The US is ready to enact economic sanctions in the case that Russia invades, with President Joe Biden warning that “our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.” The Administration has also stated it has provided Ukraine with additional defensive equipment and is prepared to shift troops to defend NATO countries in the east if necessary. There is no plan to send US troops into Ukraine itself.