Ukraine: the EU fears the Russian trap of Donbass

More than a Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Europeans fear that Kiev will fall into the trap of an armed confrontation in the Donbass region, triggered by a provocation by pro-Russian separatists, and have warned Moscow of their determination to sanction it, several officials explained on Tuesday.

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“Nobody knows if (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has made the decision to intervene and what will trigger it, but the maximum alert has been issued until the end of February,” said one of the journalists. them.

Moscow has positioned more than 100,000 combat troops, tanks and artillery on the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, annexed in 2014, where naval air maneuvers began on Tuesday.

Many units are deployed near the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk in the coal-mining region of Donbass (eastern Ukraine), where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.

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Moscow wants to defend these two republics. The Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, is studying a request from the Communist Party calling on Vladimir Putin to recognize them and the Kremlin spokesman judged Monday “very high” the risk of an offensive by Ukrainian troops against pro-Russian separatists.

The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell said on January 17 that he was “concerned by the situation in the regions not controlled by Kiev, because they (…) are getting closer and closer to Russia”.

“The concentration of forces on the Ukrainian border is linked to their de facto integration into Russia,” he told MEPs.

“The region will be the scene of enormous provocations and the Ukrainian leaders are called upon to do nothing that could be used as a provocation” by Moscow, explained a European diplomat.

“We must learn the lessons of what happened in Georgia in 2008,” he said. A military operation by Georgian forces against the separatist region of South Ossetia had provoked an intervention by the Russian army. The conflict lasted five days and ended with the recognition of Ossetia and Abkhazia by Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky assured Monday that his country “will not give in to provocations”.

“The European Union will sanction any armed aggression in Ukraine, because they can take many forms and do not necessarily involve Russian soldiers,” assured a European official.

These messages are transmitted to Moscow, because “the Europeans are talking with the Russian authorities and with their negotiators at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, editor’s note) and within the NATO-Russia Council”, he said. -he explains.

“Total isolation” from Russia

Options have been prepared to respond to different types of actions against Ukraine attributable to Russia. The economic and financial sanctions introduced by the EU after the annexation of Crimea and renewed unanimously every six months “constitute the backbone” of the European reaction, but the scale is much greater.

They will be “unprecedented” and Russia “will be totally isolated”, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod warned on Monday.

“Everything is on the table and if we want to be credible, nothing can be ruled out,” explained the European official. Russia derives 46 percent of its revenue from gas and oil sales, and European countries are major customers, he said.

“The question is that of the political will to vote for these sanctions,” he acknowledged.

Some Europeans are hesitant. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz insists on “the consequences” of the sanctions for the German economy. But “there is a unity of Europeans with the United States to display, at some point, a set of sanctions considered dissuasive”, said Tuesday the head of French diplomacy Jean-Yves le Drian.

The priority is to “dissuade” the Russian president from acting. “For Vladimir Putin, it’s now or never, because the rearmament of Ukraine, in particular with the purchase of drones from Turkey, will allow Kiev to wage a defensive war,” explained the European official.

“The allies are very nervous, because all scenarios are possible and no one knows how it will end,” he concluded.

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