Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders: how do NATO and the EU react? | Ukraine and Ukrainians: A View from Europe | Dw

For the second time in a year, there is an accumulation of Russian troops near the borders of Ukraine. As in April, this has now become the subject of much discussion in the US and the EU. Western media began to report on Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine’s borders at the end of October. Kiev initially denied this, but later announced the concentration of about 90 thousand soldiers “near the borders” of Ukraine and in the “temporarily occupied territories.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba noted during a visit to Brussels on November 15 that Russia had “concentrated a military armada” near the borders of Ukraine “back in spring and has not really withdrawn it since that time. According to the Ukrainian minister, now the Russian Federation can very quickly use its troops near Ukraine.

After meeting with Kuleba, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said about “a large and unusual concentration of Russian forces near the borders of Ukraine.” The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, also spoke about the strengthening of the military presence of the Russian Federation. At the same time, he added that he has only the information provided by Kiev and Washington. Russia, in turn, assures that the movement of its troops does not pose a threat to anyone.

What is known about the troops of the Russian Federation near the borders of Ukraine?

What kind of troops are we talking about? Politico published satellite images of armored vehicles and self-propelled artillery near the city of Yelnya, 300 km from the Ukrainian border. The profile resource Janes reported on the redeployment of part of the equipment of the 1st Guards Tank Army of the Russian Federation from the Moscow region to the south of Voronezh. And The Washington Post wrote that units of the 41st Army did not return to the Novosibirsk region after the West-2021 exercises, but moved closer to Ukraine.

SWP expert Wolfgang Richter

Wolfgang Richter, a military expert at the Berlin Science and Politics Foundation (SWP), stressed in a commentary to DW that a distinction should be made between Russia’s standing troops near Ukraine and additional units. He recalled that Russian troops have been constantly present there only since 2015. According to him, we are talking about three divisions, in particular, the 144th motorized rifle division, stationed in Yelnya and in the Bryansk region. According to Richter, this unit is not fully completed. He admits that a second tank regiment is now being created as part of the division.

Adding to the number of these three divisions the Russian troops stationed in the Crimea, Richter counted about 80 thousand soldiers. “This is a rough estimate that I got, taking into account the usual number of units of this type,” – the expert clarifies. But units from the Moscow region and from Siberia are already additional troops. Together with them, the figure of 90-100 thousand soldiers, about which they talk in Kiev, may turn out, Richter notes. Will they stay close to Ukraine? The expert admits this possibility, since the above three divisions ended up there by transferring units from other regions of the country to the western border of Russia, and were not created from scratch.

“There are not enough Russian troops near the border with Ukraine to invade”

What can Russia do using these troops? According to Richter, there are enough of them to support the separatist forces in the Donbass. “But they are not enough to launch a large-scale attack on Ukraine,” says an expert from Germany. He recalls that the number of the armed forces of Ukraine is more than 200 thousand servicemen, armed with about a thousand tanks, more than 100 aircraft and powerful artillery.

Bruno Lethe, an expert at the Brussels bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, agrees that the Russian troops concentrated on the Ukrainian borders are not enough for a large-scale invasion. The conclusions of the experts were similar in April this year.

The EU and NATO stand in solidarity with Ukraine

The current troop build-up near the border with Ukraine has been the subject of discussions in NATO and the EU. They assured that they support the sovereignty of Ukraine. But what can they do in practice? In response to this question, Stoltenberg only reminds that NATO provides “political and practical” support to Ukraine, in particular, it trains its troops.

Josep Borrell’s response to a DW reporter’s question was unexpectedly harsh if the EU has found tools since April to prevent an escalation: “As far as I know, we have nothing more than an association agreement with Ukraine. We have no military alliance with Ukraine.” … “We are in solidarity with Ukraine … Of course, Ukraine can be sure of political, diplomatic, economic and financial support from the EU,” added the head of European diplomacy.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba

Specific steps are mentioned by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba. On November 18, he announced that Kiev was working with partners on a “comprehensive package of containing Russia.” “It includes political and diplomatic pressure, painful economic blows in the event of an expansion of Russian aggression, and a list of specific needs to strengthen Ukraine’s armed forces,” Kuleba said.

How can NATO and the EU help Ukraine?

Are there any other tools? The British tabloid The Mirror reported that London had prepared a detachment of 400-600 soldiers, which it could quickly deploy to Ukraine. Obviously, this figure cannot be compared with the number of military personnel in the Russian Federation. But could the very presence of Western troops deter Russia from an offensive?

Bruno Lete recalls that NATO battalions, stationed on a rotational basis in the Baltic states and Poland, have a total of 5,000 soldiers, but the political symbolism of their presence is “sufficient to contain Russia.” “If British, French, Spanish soldiers are on the territory of Ukraine, then Russia will think twice before attacking the sovereign territory of Ukraine,” the expert is sure. But he does not expect many countries in Europe or North America to send even a small number of troops, because the main priority of their policy is not to provoke Russia.

German Richter is skeptical about any steps that add fuel to the fire. “One side is deploying some forces, the situation is heating up, the rhetoric is getting tougher, and the other side is deploying even more (troops. – Ed.). What is the bottom line? “- Asks the expert. He adds that there are about 500 Western military instructors in Ukraine anyway.

Wolfgang Richter sees the only way out – in establishing a dialogue, first of all, on arms control mechanisms, creating transparency and building confidence. “A new initiative is needed to prevent the worst in a crisis, when the situation is as unstable as it is now,” the expert is sure. However, NATO has long been proposing to strengthen arms control, in particular, to modernize the Vienna Document of the OSCE, but there has been no progress so far. Recently, contacts between NATO and Russia have only been decreasing.

And Bruno Lete believes that the best signal to Russia would be to provide Ukraine with an action plan for NATO membership at the Madrid summit in 2022. At the same time, he admits that so far there is no political will in the alliance for this.

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