West warns Russia against ‘any’ Ukraine incursion

Published January 21, 2022
DONETSK: Ukrainian soldiers stand in a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near a village on Thursday.
—AFP
DONETSK: Ukrainian soldiers stand in a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near a village on Thursday. —AFP

BERLIN: The United States and its allies on Thursday warned Moscow of grave consequences if “any” of the tens of thousands of troops massed on the border were to cross the border into Ukraine.

Following talks with Germany, France and Britain, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underlined that Russia “cannot match” Western power’s resoluteness.

In a show of that unity, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, speaking alongside Blinken, said the West would not shy away from taking action even if that included measures that “could have economic consequences for ourselves”.

Separately in London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia marching on Ukraine “on any scale whatever... would be a disaster not just for Ukraine but for Russia”.

“It would be a disaster for the world,” he told reporters, saying he stands “four-square” behind Ukraine’s sovereignty. Fears are mounting that a major conflict could break out in Europe.

In a bid to defuse the worst tensions between Russia and the West in decades, Blinken is on a whirlwind diplomatic tour that took him to Berlin on Thursday before his meeting with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

Moscow insists it has no plans to invade but has at the same time laid down a series of demands — including a ban on Ukraine joining Nato — in exchange for de-escalation.

Washington has rejected Moscow’s demands as “non-starters” and Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg this week insisted that the alliance “will not compromise on core principles such as the right for each nation to choose its own path”.

Upping the ante, Russia announced new naval drills that will see it deploy to the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Mediterranean “more than 140 warships and support vessels, more than 60 aircraft, 1,000 pieces of military equipment, and about 10,000 servicemen”.

The announcement followed an angry condemnation from the Kremlin of what it described as “destabilising” remarks from US President Joe Biden, after the American leader vowed a “severe” response to any invasion of Ukraine.

Russia already held joint military drills Wednesday with forces of ex-Soviet republic Belarus, which also neighbours Ukraine.

A US official said the exercises could presage a permanent Russian military presence involving both conventional and nuclear forces in Belarus.

The West has repeatedly warned Russia it would pay a “high price” of economic and political sanctions should it invade Ukraine.

Hours before Blinken arrived in Berlin to coordinate the possible response to Russia, Biden sparked controversy as he appeared to indicate that a “minor incursion” might prompt a smaller reaction from Nato allies.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2022

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