Ukraine crisis

In early November 2021, Russia began building up military forces along the borders of Ukraine, for the second time in a year. Over 100,000 Russian military personnel and assets have been deployed in Crimea and in the Voronezh, Kursk and Bryansk regions of Western Russia. Further Russian forces are deploying to Belarus for a series of exercises close to the Ukrainian border and Russian naval assets from the Baltic and Northern fleets have also been reported heading south, with their expected destination the Black Sea.  

Tensions have escalated following a US intelligence assessment in December 2021, which suggested that Russia could be planning an invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

Russia’s “red lines”

Russia has denied suggestions it is planning to invade Ukraine and says it is responding to provocative actions by NATO.   Russia is seeking longer term security guarantees from the Alliance that Ukraine will not be admitted as a Member State and that NATO military infrastructure will not be deployed in the country. The Kremlin has said these are “red lines” for Russia’s national security.

International response

Western nations, including the US, UK and member states of the EU, have made their support clear for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and its right to choose its security partnerships.

They have warned Russia that any military escalation will have significant economic consequences. Among measures being discussed are sanctions against Russia’s financial institutions, energy sector, and individuals close to the Kremlin. Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe could be halted as part of any sanctions package. Military assistance from the UK, US, NATO and the EU is also being provided to Ukraine.

Diplomatic talks

Diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation are underway. A series of meetings between the US, NATO, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Russia were held in mid-January 2022.

Those meetings discussed Ukraine, but also European security more broadly, including Russian proposals for legally binding security guarantees between the US, NATO and Russia.

Talks aimed at achieving a political solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine also resumed between the countries of the Normandy Format: Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.

No breakthroughs were achieved, and Russia did not commit to de-escalate and withdraw forces from the Ukrainian border. Proposals have been made for talks to continue.  

What happens next?

Russia has since been accused by the West of planning a series of aggressive moves against Ukraine as a pretext for military action, allegations which it denies. Russia stands by its statement that it has no plans to invade Ukraine and President Putin has accused the US of trying to draw Russia into a war.

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether the Kremlin will agree to NATO’s proposal for more substantive security talks in the longer term.

Deterrence as well as diplomacy

In the meantime, several NATO allies have moved to shore up the defence of eastern Europe by deploying additional ships, fighter aircraft and troops to the region. 

NATO forces will not be deployed on the ground in Ukraine, however, as it is a partner country of the alliance and not party to NATO’s Article V mutual defence clause.

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