Ukraine: what is Putin up to?

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a virtual summit on Tuesday to discuss the Ukraine crisis. The US is demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops gathered on the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin is demanding a clear rejection of plans for Kyiv to join Nato. Europe's press sheds light on the precarious situation.

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Expresso (PT) /

The time is right

Expresso considers war in Ukraine a distinct possibility:

“No one knows what Putin's decision on Ukraine will be. He may conclude that a limited war against Ukraine makes sense despite the political and financial costs in the relations with Europe and the United States. ... From Putin's perspective, it may be better to act now, especially if he believes that a renewed Russian invasion will be supported by a significant portion of the Ukrainian population. For the Russian leader, Ukraine is not a foreign country. And in a few years' time it will be too late.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Let's hope he's not playing Risk

An invasion can't be ruled out entirely, but it is unlikely, writes Russia expert Anna Zafesova in La Stampa:

“It would be more reassuring to think of this as a bluff. Putin is now rejecting what he sees as pointless negotiations with his former brethren in Kiev - which he considers a Western colony - and claims to be talking to those he considers the real masters. And he has already secured a summit, albeit via video conference, with Biden. His tactic of 'positive tension' in Europe has given him the visibility he seeks. If this really is a poker game, he might even be satisfied with this outcome. The question, however, is whether the Kremlin is playing poker or Risk.”

NV (UA) /

Too much of a challenge

Putin won't be able to subjugate Ukraine, NV columnist Ivan Yakovyna is convinced:

“Ukraine is the most sensitive issue for Vladimir Putin. He has been trying to conquer it since 2004. But he has never succeeded. In 2014, he even invaded it, but that was also a half-hearted action. And instead of subduing Ukraine, he made it even less pro-Russian, much more consolidated, anti-Russian. ... So far, things have progressed well in that respect.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

A grave historical mistake

The taz points out that the deterioration in relations began with Nato's eastward expansion, which started in 1996:

“The promise that US Secretary of State James Baker, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher verifiably made to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in early February 1990 was broken. Eastern enlargement was a grave historical mistake on Nato's part. The focus should have been on the 'Common House of Europe' proposed by Gorbachev and the establishment of a collective security system with Russia within the framework of the OSCE which would also have provided reliable protection for Poland and the Baltic states. Today, unfortunately, this mistake is probably no longer reversible.”

The Times (GB) /

Just ignore him

The West should simply ignore Putin's demands, The Times counsels:

“He can demand further demilitarisation in neighbouring countries: an end to all military exercises, perhaps, or the withdrawal of the Nato tripwire forces in Poland and the Baltic states. ... With Nato and the EU rendered ineffective, Russia can increase its presence further in the Black Sea and continue boosting its influence in former Yugoslavia. ... For Russia to portray these puny forces as a threat is absurd. So too is the idea of encirclement: just one-sixteenth of Russia's land frontier borders Nato countries.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Kremlin has no right to zones of influence

The Süddeutsche Zeitung writes that Russia's demand for a guarantee that Nato keep its distance should be rejected:

“There can never be such a guarantee. It would be tantamount to dividing Europe into zones of influence, and the continent would effectively revert to the Cold War. All states on Russia's periphery would lose the right to decide independently with whom they form political alliances. Yet Ukraine is no less free than the states of the Baltic. They choose their alliance partners themselves and do not follow dictates from the Kremlin. The second assumption that the West is pushing towards Russia is also unfounded. The countries of Central Europe became members of Nato or even the EU by their own sovereign choice. No one forced them to do so.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Step-by-step destruction of the world order

Moscow will make more and more demands, Rzeczpospolita predicts:

“The real question is whether the Kremlin gets to decide what the West may and may not do. This is only superficially about Ukraine. ... Next the Kremlin will want to decide which troops can be stationed in the Baltic states or Poland. Perhaps it will demand that the Kaliningrad region should no longer be so isolated from the rest of Russia. And on and on. This process is unstoppable. The logic of the Eastern Empire is to destroy the current world order step by step.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Russia wants to be recognised as an equal

Echo of Moscow explains what the Kremlin is trying to achieve:

“Moscow wants to be heard and talked to as an equal. That's why it is constantly upping the ante and adding more logs to the fire - as well as pouring on more oil for good measure. All of this is of course not aimed at bringing about a meeting between Lavrov and Blinken or convincing the US to act as mediator [between Russia and Ukraine]. We need to talk to Blinken's boss first. ... Only then can we haggle over pipelines and sanctions and a few things that are less important for the US and the West.”

The Times (GB) /

Escalation would be disastrous

The Times outlines what needs to happen now:

“The West must face down Russia's bluster, encourage Moscow to lower tensions, revive the moribund Minsk agreement talks on Ukraine and offer Mr Lavrov, a professional and pragmatic diplomat, a face-saving reason to push for de-escalation and a new European security pact that can be taken seriously. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the seven years of fighting in Ukraine. ... This is not some faraway conflict. It is a European flashpoint that could trigger catastrophic military escalation unless all sides understand and act on the dangers.”

Latvijas Avīze (LV) /

Ukraine now stronger than ever

Russia should think twice before attacking Ukraine, Latvijas avīze advises:

“Anyone - even someone with little military knowledge - who visits Ukrainian military bases will realise that an aggressor would not have an easy time. The war has been going on for almost eight years, and these years have seen changes. Ukrainian army brigades are led by experienced colonels who are seconded by dozens, even hundreds, of experienced soldiers and officers. And the army's supply chain has improved significantly. ... In the event of a major attack, the large number of coffins that will have to be brought back to Russia could prove very painful to the Kremlin. That should cool down the hotheads in Moscow.”