Ukraine crisis: calm before or after the storm?

Last week Russia described the US offer on the Ukraine crisis as unsatisfactory and then deployed more troops to the border area, boosting its capacity for imminent attack. Several Western states had already increased their military presence in Eastern Europe. But commentators do not believe a full-blown war is in the cards, and discuss possibilities for de-escalation.

Open/close all quotes (UA) /

Not the first Western misinterpretation

The West has often misjudged the situation in crisis areas, political scientist Volodymyr Fessenko reminds's readers:

“I would like to remind you of some historical facts. Nobody in Washington, London or the West in general expected Russia's annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in the Donbass in 2014. ... There was also a complete analytical failure in Western capitals when it came to developments in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American troops. Recall also the long-standing stories fuelled by 'Western intelligence' about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons or the accusations against Kyiv that it was selling arms to the Middle East.”

Népszava (HU) /

Neither a major invasion nor capitulation

Putin is not about to go home empty-handed, Népszava predicts:

“The Russian military forces deployed along Ukraine's borders are not sufficient to occupy the [entire] country. ... However, this military force is too large to simply return to the barracks. The result will probably be somewhere in the middle, as Joe Biden also unintentionally indicated when he said that the response to a smaller incursion would be different from that to a large invasion. ... Putin's goals are [nevertheless] clear: not least from the article he published last summer on the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”

NV (UA) /

Let Putin borrow Donbass for a while

NV writes:

“Everyone knows that Moscow has started to retreat. But at the same time it has to save face somehow. What would be face-saving for it? Perhaps the recognition of the LDPR [the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk people's republics] as an independent state and perhaps even the annexation of these territories. ... In Russia, everyone will understand that this is a total defeat - the goal was the whole of Ukraine, but it only got two stumps. ... And they will definitely return to Ukraine once Putin is gone - Russia doesn't need them. That's good for Ukraine, but why? There is no need to fund these territories while they are occupied. ... The danger of a direct military invasion is averted. And what's more, the Minsk agreements would then no longer apply.”

Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

Moscow miscalculated

Russia's aggressive policy has completely missed its target, writes Ilta-Sanomat:

“Since Russia illegally invaded the Crimean peninsula in the spring of 2014, annexed it and became a warring party in eastern Ukraine, Finland has consistently developed its defence forces' operational readiness, cooperation capabilities and intelligence. ... Russia has not at all served its own goals with its aggressive actions. ... The debate about Nato accession has also intensified. Security policy will become the most important issue in the 2023 parliamentary elections. Russia should not have made another attempt to establish spheres of interest in Europe.”

Times of Malta (MT) /

No wonder Ukraine doesn't want to be neutral

If Russia were to recognise the Ukrainians' right to self-determination they would not feel compelled to seek Nato's protection, the Times of Malta explains:

“Of course, one possible solution would be for Ukraine to declare that it will pursue a policy of neutrality, just like Finland, which has a long border with Russia, has done so far. However, for this to happen, Russia must negotiate directly with Ukraine, stop treating it as a puppet of the West and give it guarantees that it will always respect its independence, sovereignty and its right to join the EU. The whole point of Ukraine wanting to join Nato is precisely because it fears Russia.”

Financial Times (GB) /

The solution is already on the table

A diplomatic solution is within reach, writes Edward Hunter, US diplomat and former representative to Nato, in the Financial Times:

“The outcome will recognise that Ukraine will not join Nato and that countries will still be allowed to apply (although there are no serious countries left on the list of potential new members). Additionally, the two sides will agree to confidence-building measures. These are already on the table, and the Nato-Russia Council has been resuscitated. The US also needs Russia to end cyber attacks and interference in US and European democracies. Moscow has already moved to close down Revil, a major hacking network based in Russia.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Needling instead of a major strike

Russia will adapt its strategy according to what the US says, political scientist Jesús A. Núñez Villaverde speculates in El Periódico de Catalunya:

“The messages spread by the US so far indicate that only a massive invasion will lead to the application of very harsh sanctions. Conversely, military measures of a limited scale will not meet with a serious Western response, either economically or militarily. This means that cyberattacks, large-scale disinformation, the reinforcement of positions in Crimea and Donbass and even the infiltration of ground forces to regain control of the Mariupol area, which would secure a land corridor from Russian territory to Sevastopol, become more likely.”

Sme (SK) /

No concessions at the expense of Eastern Europe

Sme strongly cautions against a half-hearted reaction to the Kremlin's actions:

“Putin is demanding nothing less than the extension of Russia's zone of influence to the states that - as his Foreign Minister Lavrov put it - became orphans after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR. ... In this regard, the unity of Europe is more important than ever. The future of the Baltics, the Visegrád Four and the eastern Balkans should be of concern not only for Biden but above all for the European powers, which, however, are adopting an ambivalent stance. ... If the Russians attack Ukraine, the Germans' will no doubt respond with an explicit blend of yes and no. But if Europe doesn't take action, it will find itself on the verge of relapsing to the pre-1989 era.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

What a war on our doorstep would mean

Rzeczpospolita's editor-in-chief Bogusław Chrabota wonders how well prepared Poland would be for an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine:

“If a conflict breaks out in Ukraine, Poland will be a border state in the war. ... Are we prepared for hundreds of thousands of refugees? Will we be able to give them a roof over their heads? Will we be able to feed them and provide them with healthcare? Will we be able to police the more than 500-kilometre-long border with Ukraine? And how prepared are we for an energy crisis, seeing as war could lead to disruptions in Russian oil, gas and coal supplies?”

24 Chasa (BG) /

An invasion would be doomed to fail

A Russian invasion of Ukraine would mean the end of Putin's power, says 24 Chasa:

“Nato would use Javelin anti-tank missiles, which can pierce Russian tanks as if they were made of cardboard. The latest Stinger missiles would shoot down combat helicopters and low-flying aircraft like ducks. A strong partisan movement would form in the occupied territories. Sooner or later, Russia would withdraw as it did from Afghanistan. And Putin would have to step down and move to China with his friends and relatives.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Putin holds all the cards

For La Stampa it's clear who is in charge of the current situation:

“There is only one 'start-stop switch' in this crisis. And that's in Moscow, in the Kremlin. ... Vladimir Putin has managed to pin Kyiv, Washington and Brussels down to waiting for his decisions. So he risks little or nothing. The start of a bilateral strategic dialogue with the US is already a victory. Putin is the only actor who has a free hand.”

Kommersant (RU) /

An end to the propaganda duel

Kommersant sees signs of a détente after the Geneva meeting - and cites unofficial information received from the State Department:

“According to reports, US diplomats are asking their Russian colleagues not to publish their written response to the Russian proposals on security guarantees, which is to come this week. As is well known, important international agreements are worked out under conditions of confidentiality. Accordingly, Washington's request suggests that the US is indeed working towards finding a mutually acceptable solution. ... So the meeting between Lavrov and Blinken can be seen as a milestone in the transition from a propaganda duel to a 'struggle for peace'.”

Strana (UA) /

Ukraine's Achilles heel

Russia could bring Ukraine to its knees even without tanks, journalist Oleg Popenko points out in Strana:

“All it takes is a few acts of sabotage, missiles, and drones on our virtually unguarded coal-fired power plants and we'll be without electricity. The electricity outage would immediately lead to a disruption of mobile communications and the internet. The Russians only need cut off rail supplies of diesel and petrol from Russia to Ukraine and we would be paralysed. ... If Russian ships were to blockade Ukrainian ports for a week, the Ukrainian economy would collapse like a house of cards.” (RO) /

Donbas could become a casus belli

The Russian Communist Party has submitted an appeal to Putin in the Duma to recognise Donetsk and Luhansk as independent. This paves the way for Russia to declare war on Ukraine, writes:

“If the response of the US and the other Nato allies to Russia's demands regarding Nato's eastward expansion does not please Putin, Moscow could turn the Donbass region into a 'casus belli' (the term used in international law for a legal justification for triggering a war). ... By recognising the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Moscow would make them international partners of the Russian Federation. This would mean that every shot fired at Donetsk and Luhansk would serve as a 'defence motive' for the Russian army.”

El País (ES) /

Warmonger Stoltenberg

Commenting in El País, journalist Juan Luis Cebrían says the conflict has been settled for the time being but nonetheless criticises Nato:

“Now that a new war in Eastern Europe has been precluded, the need remains to establish a new world order that should be based neither on the bipolar strategy of the Cold War nor on the unquestioned authority of the US. ... The maintenance of world peace requires not only the legitimacy of power but also its balance. ... This is not the policy of Nato, whose secretary-general has been pushing for a concentration of forces in countries close to the border since 2016. For this same reason German President Walter Steinmeier once accused him of being a warmonger. Those who have personally heard Stoltenberg's vision of the strategy to be pursued will have no difficulty admitting that this description is apt.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Neutrality as the way forward

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung suggests that the Ukrainians could follow the historical example set by the Finns:

“They had to make major territorial concessions, but managed to convince the Russians to grant them independence - unlike the Baltic states, which were later fully integrated into the Soviet empire. In return, Finland committed itself to strict political neutrality. ... Much to Putin's chagrin, all the popularly elected Ukrainian governments of recent years have seen their country's future tied to stronger integration with Europe. ... In view of the threat of Russian invasion, their path to this goal could perhaps be along the lines of Finnish-style neutrality.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Brussels and Paris must show more realism

Rzeczpospolita awaits a clear announcement from the French EU Presidency:

“At a moment like this, the self-preservation instinct should prompt the EU countries to declare that Nato will represent the interests of the West in the confrontation with Moscow. That would be a euphemism for Europeans once again putting their fate in the hands of the Americans. But Emmanuel Macron cannot bring himself to say this. ... For decades, the French have specialised in announcing pompous but unrealistic visions of the EU's future. This is because they have difficulties accepting that this country, once a great power, is now in a different league.”

Delo (SI) /

A compromise needed

The West lacks a capable leader who could achieve a successful agreement, says Delo:

“In the end, a compromise on Nato (non-)enlargement will have to be found on both sides. Even if this is achieved behind the scenes, as was the case between Moscow and Washington during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet Union abandoned its plans to station nuclear weapons on the US's doorstep and the Americans withdrew nuclear weapons stationed close to the Soviet borders. During the Cold War, despite strident rhetoric, great leaders were found who saved the world from a destructive conflict. It is to be feared that at least in the West, such leaders are now lacking.”

Il Manifesto (IT) /

As if the West were innocent

Il Manifesto is annoyed by the idea that only Moscow is to blame for the Ukraine conflict:

“Is it possible that despite their other pressing problems, Western governments are calling for Nato to expand eastwards? With weapons systems, missiles, troops, naval and land bases involving all 28 allied countries surrounding Russia, with the obvious intention of provoking a reaction? ... Could it be that behind the talk of 'ecological transition' lies the revival of the military-industrial comlex? A revival that, among other harmful side effects, is pushing all countries to rearm, starting with Russia and the real antagonist, China? And isn't everyone looking for an enemy and to impose new sanctions?”

Le Temps (CH) /

Putin's plan remains unclear

Since the West is not about to meet Putin's demand for a Nato-guaranteed renunciation of eastward expansion, Le Temps wonders what the Kremlin boss's real goal is:

“For Russia, this is officially a matter of unravelling the results of the 30 years that followed the Cold War. A way out is still visible. But how do you get out of a deadlock that you yourself so carefully created, given that the North Atlantic Alliance is in no hurry to expand eastwards in the foreseeable future? At any moment, the Kremlin could declare itself the 'winner' of a war that never took place. But it could also try to find the slightest pretext to deploy the armada it has assembled.”