Sat. Nov 27th, 2021

The FT’s article on Ukraine (“Ukraine warns against border ‘destabilization'”, Report, November 15) is a reminder that we still have lessons to learn from previous actions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s refusal to meet its German and French counterparts is worrying, but not unique.

In the summer of 2008 – with the Georgia-Russia relationship boiling and Russian combat forces deployed in a massive military exercise just across the border in Georgia – my Russian counterpart informed me that neither he nor his colleagues would be available to deal with to meet my German, French or British counterparts, or myself. This hampered the UN mediation process that led us to defuse tensions between the two countries.

Russia therefore bought time to finalize its invasion plans and only invaded Georgia weeks later.

History can now repeat itself. Russia’s current diplomatic unavailability coincides with its massive build-up of armed forces near its border with Ukraine. In line with its doctrine of hybrid or “non-linear” warfare, Moscow is simultaneously using natural gas supplies to economically squeeze Ukraine (and the EU) while conducting a “legislative” campaign against Kiev by the British Supreme Court.

If the estimates of Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, that “Russia has deployed as many as 114,000 forces to the north, east and south of Ukraine” appear to be true, Russia could plan its 2008 invasion in Georgia to repeat, this time in Ukraine, where 14,000 Ukrainian lives have already been claimed by this conflict.

A full-fledged war with Russia would not only be tragic for Ukraine; it will also create the deepest security crisis for NATO’s easternmost members on Ukraine’s doorstep since joining the alliance two decades ago.

Indeed, even if Moscow intends to build up its looming military merely simply to gain negotiating leverage over Kiev, Western assent runs the risk of posing Russian challenges to NATO’s eastern flank.

This could potentially leave NATO a brutal choice between respecting its collective defense commitment to its most eastern allies or war with Russia.

Ambassador (ret.) Matthew Bryza
Former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Istanbul, Turkey

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