Faced with criticism and calls for alert from the West, Russia is rooting for its great military mobilization along the border with Ukraine and has warned that the escalation of the conflict in the Donbas region – where the Kremlin is militarily and politically supporting the pro-Russian rebels – can unleash a war on a larger scale. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky assured on Monday that Moscow is blocking attempts to talk to ease growing tensions, which have soared in recent weeks with the escalation of fighting in the East and the great Russian military deployment. Zelensky requested more than two weeks ago a call with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and has not received a response, his Cabinet has said. Moscow says it has no record of any request.
The Kremlin has strongly defended the mobilization of its troops, the largest since 2014, according to US calculations, and has reiterated its accusations against Kiev of "dangerous provocations" in the Donbas. "The trend in the behavior of the Ukrainian side creates the risk of a large-scale military resumption," stressed Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov. The Russian foreign minister has also accused Zelenski of using the conflict for political gain. "It may end badly, because in the quest to restore its rating, the current Kiev regime may well erupt into reckless actions," Lavrov said in Cairo, where he is on an official trip, according to the state agency Tass.
Moscow has insisted that the escalation of tension in Ukraine "justifies the measures that Russia is taking" and has again slipped this Monday the idea of an intervention by Moscow to "defend" Russian-speaking citizens in Donetsk and Lugansk, the Ukrainian regions experiencing the simmering conflict that began shortly after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine in an illegal referendum. "Russia considers it important to look after the interests of Russian-speaking people all over the world," insisted Dmitri Peskov, who stated that these citizens are "rejected" by Ukraine.
Last week, shortly before Peskov launched the idea of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the Donbas, the chief negotiator in Ukraine's peace process, Dmiri Kozak, also justified a possible intervention to protect people with dual Ukrainian citizenship. and Russian in that region of Eastern Ukraine. At least 640,000 residents in the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk have Russian passports, according to official data from the Russian Administration; Most of them obtained by fast track since Moscow opened the way in 2019.
Meanwhile, fears are growing that the solution to the war that has already claimed some 14,000 lives, according to the UN, Europe's last active conflict, is increasingly far away. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has assured on Monday that Russia has refused to participate in "consultations" aimed at reducing tensions and has accused it of boycotting an OSCE meeting on Saturday on the deployment of troops.
As the conflict worsens and Moscow raises the belligerent tone, the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, and the Secretary General of NATO, Jen Stoltenberg, have spoken this Monday of the situation, and have indicated the "immediate need" of Russia "stopping its aggressive military concentration" on the border. The G7 Foreign Ministers and the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, have been "very concerned" and have also asked Russia on Monday to stop the "provocations" near the border with Ukraine. “These large-scale military movements, carried out without prior notification, pose a threat and destabilize the situation. We call on Russia to stop the provocations and immediately reduce tensions, in accordance with international obligations, ”the group said in a statement issued by the United Kingdom, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7.
Russia, which has responded that it can mobilize its defense personnel as it wishes, has amassed some 80,000 troops in the border region in an open deployment that includes tanks and other artillery units, short-range ballistic missile systems and the strengthening of the fleet in the Black Sea, according to estimates by Jane's military intelligence company. Thousands of soldiers have been stationed near the city of Voronezh and also Rostov-on-Don, a few kilometers from the Donbas region, where young cadets who carry out compulsory military service have also arrived, according to sources on the ground have told this diary.
Ukraine, which has asked NATO to speed up its membership application, is actively seeking diplomatic support from Moscow. This weekend, Zelensky met in Istanbul with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey, a NATO member country, and despite the fact that in recent years he has strengthened ties with Russia, he does not recognize the annexation of Crimea – which was made to through a referendum declared illegal by the international community and with the presence of the Russian military on that Ukrainian peninsula – and which has sold military drones to Kiev.
The possibility of a new purchase of defense material from Ankara has ignited Moscow, which has asked "all responsible countries" not to "feed the militaristic sentiments" of Kiev. The visit to Ankara also has another reading: in other settings – such as the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, where with its support for Azerbaijan it has gained influence in the Caucasus – Russia has seen how Turkey disputes part of its geopolitical power.