The talks on war and/or peace that the United States and Russia started on January 10 in Geneva upon the request of Russia’s state leadership, are the best news the world could hear at the beginning of the uncertain year of 2022. The eight-hour tense talks between US and Russian diplomats did not lead to a compromise. The differences are irresoluble. Still. Regardless of that, it’s good that it is diplomacy that has sounded off, and not the deafening noise of military machineries. The outcome of the talks that continued between NATO and Russia in Brussels on January 12, was the same.
“Russia is always just defending itself, it never attacks”
“There is no reason for fear of any kind of scenario of escalation” – said Sergei A. Ryabkov, the Russian head of the delegation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noticeably tired as he spoke to journalists after a long meeting with the delegation led by the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Ryabkov also stated that Russia has no intention to attack Ukraine. No one even doubted that he would say that.
“Russia is always just defending itself, it never attacks” – would be the ironic interpretation of this statement.
The world heard the same statements also from Alexandar Grusko, of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, following the four-hour tense talks in Brussels between NATO and Russia. Even before the first “round” in Geneva, it was obvious that differences between the two would not narrow neither in Brussels, nor after the talks under the auspices of the OSCE in Vienna on January 14. They were a “photocopy” of the positions of the Head of the Russian diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov, which we read in the interview for “Rossiya Segodnya” on December 31, 2021.
Only Putin knows (if he knows)
There will probably be more meetings, unless Putin orders a command for “defense” and enters Ukrainian territory with his troops. In an exclusive interview for the author of these lines, the Ukrainian Ambassador informs that, as of January 13, 2022, there are 122,000 Russian soldiers deployed along the Ukrainian border.
One thing is certain – a Russian military invasion will not happen as long as diplomats are sitting at the green table.
However, while Russian diplomats were unconvincingly stating that Russia has no intention of attacking Ukraine, Russian military helicopters, on January 10, were flying over several zones on the border with Ukraine. It was a signal that the military operation for attacking Ukraine was in progress. The next day, January 11, Russian tanks and infantry carried out drills with live ammunition.
Only Vladimir Putin, the undisputed ruler of Russia since 1999, probably knows (if he knows) what really will happen.
Tricks and tactics
Besides, the former KGB agent enjoys being wrapped in a veil of mystery. Putin is constantly keeping the world public in a state of uncomfortable expectancy. His statements often shock Western diplomats.
Whatever Russian representatives Ryabkov, Grushko or anyone else say at the negotiating table in Geneva, Brussels, Vienna or any other place, in the end, those statements are just part of tricks and tactics, and are not firmly determined principle views of Putin and his military and propaganda generals.
In other words, statements of the Kremlin or of Putin himself are just a tactical move on the chessboard. Not a real position, but a maneuver that causes illusion in order to puzzle the opponent. Because the positions and principles are related to the strategy for hegemony and rule with a firm hand.
Completely irreconcilable positions
But no matter how much he wants to remain mysterious, Putin cannot hide his true intentions, plans, frustrations. The world has known him for 22 years.
In the analysis of CivilMedia, as well as in the interview with Ukrainian Ambassador Natalia Zadorozhnyuk, all of Russia’s important positions are revealed, on the one hand, and the views of the US, NATO and the Western democracies, on the other side. They are completely irreconcilable positions. If it doesn’t come to a military aggression, it will be solely because of Putin’s assessment that sanctions from the West and the large number of coffins from the battlefield will bring him more harm than benefit for his clique. Nothing else.
The aggression against Ukraine has been lasting since 2014. This was preceded by numerous provocations and pressure from the Kremlin and the authoritarian rule of the Russian marionette President Viktor Yanukovych. After the Maiden Revolution (2013-2014), in which around 80 people were killed in the clashes between the police and protestors, instead of continuing on the path to freedom and Euro-Atlantic integration, Ukraine was a target of military aggression.
The main demand, withdrawal of NATO to the border before 1997
Putin cannot forgive the Western democracies for the influence they made that led to the disintegration of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. During the long years of his authoritarian rule of the Russian Federation, the cold and calculating Putin grew into an arch-enemy of democracy and the West. His biggest, if not only goal, is to return the “old glory” of the Soviet Union, in the bosom of which he started his quest to the top as a talented KGB agent.
Russia’s main demand is for NATO to withdraw to the borders before 1997. Since then, 13 countries have become NATO members, among which also North Macedonia and all Balkan states, except for Greece, which has been a member since 1952. On this list are also the countries of the former Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Рepublics that Stalin annexed in 1940.
History has noted that the occupation of the areas of the Baltic States in 1940 was part of the Nazi-Soviet alliance between Stalin and Hitler and the Pact that was signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop. Putin is trying to restore influence in the countries that are a legacy from the Nazi era with which Stalin was in a sincere embrace until the start of the Operation ”Barbarossa“ on June 22, 1941.
After this short look at history, the kind of ambitions (of Putin) the world is facing can only become more clear.
The Macedonian context
It’s also clear why Russia, through its Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Embassy, has been diligently working on undermining efforts towards democratization in North Macedonia as well as efforts to end the international isolation into which the country was pushed by the regime of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.
In one occasion in May 2018, in the middle of Skopje, no more or less, but at an event of the Faculty of Security (!), then Russian Ambassador Oleg Shchebak openly threatened our country, its sovereignty and security, if it continued the NATO accession process. This is just one of the numerous examples of the gross Russian interference in the internal affairs of North Macedonia. And an echo of the open threats that came also from Lavrov himself.
Ukraine, literally, is paying its freedom and sovereignty with blood, under constant attack of Putin’s militant regime and with a Russian boot on the greater part of its territory. Around 14,000 people, of which 3,300 are civilians, have lost their lives in the fighting between the Russian army and pro-Russian separatists in the occupied areas of Ukraine since 2014.
If Putin decides to attack, the military-political fire this time is threatening to engulf the whole world.
Translation: N. Cvetkovska
Proofreading: H. Roberson Gaston
This article is available in Macedonian.