On Tuesday, Nov. 30, NATO foreign ministers from the UK and the US Secretary of State met in Riga, Latvia, to discuss the growing tension between Russia and Ukraine and issued a stern warning to Putin over the alleged advance of his troops on the Ukrainian border.
According to The Hill, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that NATO ministers “together send an unmistakable message to the Russian government: NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken and its independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty are not up for discussion.
“Russia would have to pay a high price for any form of aggression,” Maas said. “Honest and sustainable de-escalation steps, which can only go via the route of talks, are all the more important now. I will not tire of stressing that the door to such talks is still open to Russia.”
Although beyond the harsh warnings, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg assured that the ‘consequences’ that Russia will most certainly suffer would be economic and political sanctions since Ukraine, not being a NATO member, does not have the guarantee of defense.
How the conflict began
In 2014, the then president of Ukraine—who had a favorable relationship with Russia—was overthrown by widespread protests. In response, Russia invaded Crimea and annexed it by force.
Pro-Russia separatist groups emerged in eastern Ukraine, where they fought with the local army. The West accuses Putin of having sent arms and support to these groups, although the Russian president denied this, saying that the Russians who joined the group were volunteers.
Since then, the situation on the Russia-Ukraine border has remained tense.
The Ukrainian government claims that the Russian army accumulated about 100 thousand troops and armament on the border and asked for help from its allies, the United States being the most important.
“We are very concerned about the movements we’ve seen along Ukraine’s border. We know that Russia often combines those efforts with internal efforts to destabilize a country,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”
Blinken hosted the foreign minister in Washington DC last month to reaffirm their alliance. However, it is unclear what the U.S. military response would be given the Biden administration’s diplomatic approach.
Both the U.S. and Europe claim Putin is ready to invade Ukraine as he did in 2014, however, the Russian government says its troop mobilization is actually in response to U.S. and NATO aggression.
“Significant units and military equipment of NATO countries, including the U.S. and Britain, are being deployed closer to our borders,” Lavrov said during a news conference in Moscow. He alleged that the West has long provoked Ukraine “into anti-Russian actions.”
For her part, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss refuted the Russian minister’s remarks, saying it is a strategy already used before by Russia and also assured that the UK would get involved in the dispute.
“We have seen this playbook from the Kremlin before when Russia falsely claimed its illegal annexation of Crimea was a response to NATO aggression. NATO is an alliance forged on the principle of defence, not provocation. Any suggestion that NATO is provoking the Russians is clearly false,” Ms. Truss exclaimed.
And she warned that “any action by Russia to undermine the freedom and democracy that our partners enjoy would be a strategic mistake.”
Among other issues discussed at the meeting in Riga was the conflict on the Poland-Belarus border.
Poland and the European bloc accuse Russia and Belarus of using a caravan of migrants they transported from Afghanistan to blackmail the European Union, which has imposed severe economic sanctions on Belarus since the beginning of the year.
While the Belarusian government initially denied the accusations, as the situation escalated and the European bloc extended sanctions on Belarus, Lukashenko said Tuesday that he is ready to receive nuclear weapons from Russia, adding more tension to the conflict.
The Belarusian leader’s statements are in line with the Russian government’s announcement that it successfully tested on Monday, November 29, hypersonic missiles fired from a warship, capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound with a range of more than 260 miles, which Putin says was necessary to develop to adequately respond to those who threaten him.