Sunday, December 10, 2023

Invasion threat and ceasefire talks: Russian bid to maintain the buffer zone that keeps NATO away?

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Paris hosted a crucial meeting on Wednesday where advisors to the premiers and heads of states of France, Ukraine, Germany, and Russia, came together under the Normandy format and called for an unconditional cessation of hostilities in Ukraine’s Donbas region. The Normandy format is a four-party diplomatic group formed to resolve the conflict in the Donbas region. The envoys reiterated that the Minsk agreements signed in 2014 form the basis of the work of the Normandy format. As per an anonymous aide of French President Emmanuel Macron, cited by AFP news agency, the talks focused on resolving the separatist fighting that started in 2014 in eastern Ukraine. He added that the ongoing threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine was not discussed in the meeting.

Amid the latest military flare-up between Ukraine and Russia, the latter, in December, issued a list of demands to NATO. One of the demands made by Russia was to limit NATO expansion and not grant membership to Ukraine. As recently as June 2021, NATO leaders at the Brussels Summit reiterated the decision taken at the 2008 Bucharest Summit for the accession of Ukraine to the alliance with the Membership Action Plan (MAP). The MAP is akin to a rite of passage that aspiring countries have to go through in order to gain NATO membership. As Kremlin sees it, Ukraine getting a NATO membership will prove to be a strategic failure for Russia.

Negotiations for a ceasefire following an imminent threat of invasion may very likely be what Russia desires. The prospects of a ceasefire will act as leverage for Russia and allow it to build pressure against NATO granting partial or full membership to Ukraine. It is noteworthy that key NATO members and parties to the Normandy Format, France and Germany, had strongly opposed the erstwhile US President, George Bush’s push for granting MAP status to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008. Both the countries share a land border with Russia.

Russia has made constant efforts to keep the existing buffer zone between itself and NATO member states intact. Currently, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Norway are the few nations that share land borders with Russia and are full-fledged NATO members. Finland, despite being an EU member state, has maintained military non-alliance and kept itself out of NATO.

In 2009, the US cancelled plans for the deployment of missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic after Russia threatened retaliation with “military-technical methods.” Russia claimed that the missile system targeted its nuclear arsenal. The latest plans for the deployment of similar weapon systems in eastern Europe have also attracted fierce opposition from Russia.

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