Russian troops on the Ukraine border should set alarm bells ringing across Europe
The West must be mindful that this standoff could easily morph into a full-blown conflict. 13 April 2021
The deployment of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine is causing deep concern in the capital Kiev but should also trigger alarm bells across Europe. More than 80,000 Russian troops have amassed close to the frontier – a number almost as great as the entire British Army. Protestations from Moscow that this is just a military exercise need to be treated with scepticism given Russia’s history in the region.
Another worrying sign is that Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky says he has tried to defuse the tensions by requesting a direct call to Vladimir Putin but has been ignored.
Russia’s designs on eastern Ukraine have been apparent for years and Moscow has already fought a proxy war by backing separatists in a conflict that has seen more than 14,000 deaths. Mr Putin regards the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in breach of international law as one of the high points of his lengthy presidency.
Indeed, it may be circumstances in Crimea that are fuelling the current stand-off. The region is suffering an acute water shortage because Ukraine cut off a canal system responsible for 85 per cent of the supply to an already arid region. Last year was the driest for more than a century. As a result harvests have failed putting more pressure on Moscow to subsidise Crimea when the Russian economy has been hard hit by the Covid pandemic.
Shortages of raw materials and essentials like water have been the catalysts for wars in the past and the West needs to be mindful that this could turn into a full-blown conflict. It is seen as the first big foreign policy test for Joe Biden but above all this is a European issue. Are its leaders prepared to stand up to President Putin?