The Russian armed forces on Tuesday launched a new series of maneuvers near Ukraine and in annexed Crimea, with exercises involving 6,000 men, fighter jets and bombers, according to Russian agencies. It is a “joint” operation which notably involves “the air force and anti-aircraft, groups of ships from the Black Sea and Caspian fleets”, said the commander of the Russian forces for the South of Russia, Alexandre Dvornikov.
According to TASS, the air force exercises involve 60 fighters and bombers in four regions, including the Crimean peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014 in retaliation for a pro-Western revolution in Ukraine. This includes coordinating the action of the navy and the air force during missile launches. In addition, some 6,000 men are engaged in maneuvers to check their combat readiness on several bases in several regions of southern Russia.
The announcement of these exercises comes a few hours after the Kremlin denounced the alert of thousands of American soldiers because of the Russian-Western crisis over Ukraine, seeing it as a new “exacerbation of tensions” by Washington.
Biden tries to change the balance of power with Moscow
By announcing the possible deployment of thousands of American soldiers to reinforce NATO troops, Joe Biden markedly increased the pressure on Moscow on Monday, while the United States and the Europeans showed their cohesion in the face of the threat of a Russian attack on Ukraine.
The United States has placed up to 8,500 soldiers on alert. That means they could be ready in five days to reinforce the military alliance’s 40,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force, the Pentagon said Monday.
“No decision has been made on the deployment of forces outside the United States at this time”, however, his spokesman said.
NATO, for its part, has announced that it is placing forces on standby and sending ships and combat aircraft to reinforce its defenses in Eastern Europe.
The American president is trying to tilt in his favor the balance of power established by his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, by massing troops and equipment on the border with Ukraine.
Joe Biden had a videoconference of just under an hour and a half on Monday with several European leaders, whom this mounting pressure from the Americans seemed to take aback.
He boasted the “total unanimitybetween Americans and Europeans shortly after the end of this meeting, which was attended by Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Polish President Andrzej Duda, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
According to a statement from the White House, the leaders “underscored their common desire for a diplomatic resolution”, but also spoke of their “preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia” in the event of a invasion, and to “strengthen security on NATO’s eastern front”.
The participants “were all of the opinion that it is up to Russia to undertake visible initiatives of de-escalation”, commented for his part the German Chancellor, assuring that Moscow would suffer “very heavy consequences” in the event of invasion.
In unison, Jens Stoltenberg spoke to him in a tweet of “severe costs” in the event of “new aggression” against Ukraine.
The Europeans had previously seemed wary of the increasingly tough rhetoric and decisions of the United States, which, for example, decided to remove the families of diplomats stationed in Kiev, an initiative followed by London and Canberra.
France, which currently assumes command of NATO’s rapid reaction force, called for “not to create ambiguity, additional volatility”.
The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, invited him not to “dramatize”.
The Ukrainian authorities have also deemed Washington’s decision concerning their diplomatic representation “premature” and “excessive”.
Moscow denounced “hysteria” and accused the United States and NATO “of exacerbating tensions through announcements and concrete actions”.
A path of de-escalation
Alongside this rise in pressure, Westerners continue despite everything to explore the diplomatic path.
According to a European source, a new meeting would thus be planned between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The United States promised a written response to the Russian demands. During the interview with Joe Biden, the French president stressed “the importance of the European Union being able to play its full part” in this response, according to a press release from the Elysée.
In this text, which unlike that of the Americans does not expressly mention NATO, France insists on the need to continue diplomatic efforts.
Emmanuel Macron wants to propose “a path of de-escalation” to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during an interview “in the coming days”.
Russia demands a written commitment on the non-enlargement of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia and demands a withdrawal of the forces and armaments of the Atlantic Alliance from the countries of Eastern Europe which have joined the NATO after 1997, notably from Romania and Bulgaria. “Non-negotiable” demands for Westerners.>- Gas and oil –
In the event of an invasion, Westerners have assured that they are preparing sanctions of unprecedented severity.
Reducing gas and oil purchases, which represent 43% and 20% of EU supplies respectively, and which largely finance the Russian budget, is on the table, a European source told AFP. but the subject divides the European Union.
A big unknown remains the position of the very young German coalition government in the event of an escalation with Russia. Berlin refuses to deliver weapons to Ukraine, unlike the United States, to the great displeasure of Kiev.
On the American side, Joe Biden plans to ban Russian banks from using the dollar, the main currency of international trade, which would deal a very severe blow to the country’s finance and real economy.