A Dangerous, Winding Road - A Look at the Ukraine Crisis in 2022
Since October of 2021, the situation in Ukraine was tense with the parliament members of the concerned countries, media and celebrities fanning the flames, while bilateral diplomatic and military efforts staked out respective positions. US President Joseph Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met twice in December 2021 to prevent developments from getting out of hand. With both sides trying to de-escalate the situation, diplomatic solutions prevailed before the end of January.
Since the three rounds of talks in early 2022 between Russia and the West (January 10, between Russia and the US; January 12, Russia and NATO; and January 13, Russia and OSCE), tensions in Ukraine have been building, almost reaching the point of military confrontation. However, both sides have not given up on diplomatic channels as there had already been over a hundred diplomatic conversation between Russia and Western countries as well as with others. The US submitted its response to Russia’s demand for security guarantees on January 21 in Geneva, Switzerland; while the Russians believe that the West did not respond to their primary requests, they are still willing to engage in further negotiations on cooperation between the two sides on secondary requests. Therefore, diplomacy is still the main approach at this stage, and military actions, if any, should only happen after the political negotiations have been completely broken.
The US adopted three defensive approaches: the first is to seek dialogue for diplomatic solutions; the second is warning Russia not to take military actions and elevating the level of possible sanctions if Russia chooses to use force, such as economic and financial measures that include cutting Russia from the SWIFT financial payment system and sanctions similar to which have been used against Huawei. The third is to increase defensive military funding and technology supplies to Ukraine. Although Russia disagreed strongly with the US, from the president down to the media, claiming that Russia is about to attack Ukraine, but it still goes along with it and continues the talks.
Since the beginning, Russia has been using military exercises to press Ukraine to open negotiation with the West on security issues. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on December 18 last year that the negotiations were an attempt to turn a potential military confrontation into a political conversation. Although Russia has not explicitly stated what measures it will take if the West does not agree to its terms, the fact that Russia continues its exercises with no intention to stand down suggests that it will still use military pressure as a bargaining chip in future negotiations.
The EU’s approach is rather more hesitant. First, Germany has never supported Ukraine’s accession to NATO, nor does it support supplying Ukraine with weapons. When visiting Ukraine and Russia on January 17-18, 2022, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated in Kiev that Germany supports, in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act, to discuss the security issues of European countries via open dialogues and the proposed solution is to return to the Normandy Format to implement the Minsk Agreement. However, if Russia escalates military actions, Germany will respond firmly. But while in Moscow, Baerbock said that the new German government wishes to establish a substantial and stable relationship with Russia, and there is a long list of cooperative plans in trade and investment, cooperation in science and culture, renewable energy, and responding to the climate crisis and more between the two countries. Although Joe Biden mentioned again that he would use Nord Stream 2 as a means of sanctions after his meeting with Olaf Scholz, the new German Prime Minister, on February 7, 2022, Scholz did not agree to the inclusion of Nord Stream 2. It means that as both sides share the same position on the severe sanctions if Russia advances into Ukraine, their attitudes are subtly different: Germany will play the “dove” role since it’s still constrained by the economic, trade and energy interests with Russia.
Second, French President Emmanuel Macron warned on January 19 that the Ukraine crisis could eventually lead to war, but also said the EU must start its own talks with Russia instead of relying on Washington; it seemed like a disgruntled response to the fact that the EU was excluded from the three above-mentioned talks between January 10 and 13. As the first major Western leader to meet with Putin since the crisis broke out last December, Macron’s main objective was to reduce military tensions. After the meeting, Putin said he was ready to compromise and would study the proposals made by Macron during the talks.
Ukraine, at the center stage but curiously excluded from most of the negotiations, appears quite helpless. Although Ukraine is depending on the West to resist Russia’s military and non-military attacks, the domestic situation is fragile and Ukraine has become the poorest European country even behind Moldova, while its high level of corruption has led the Biden administration to demand judicial reform from President Volodymyr Zelensky even as Russian troops are now approaching Kiev. Although Ukraine’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 3% in 2021 based on a 4% recession in 2020, the higher prices of goods boosted the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to reach 10% in 2021.
Facing internal and external pressure, Zelensky sought to stabilize the situation from the inside. In his speech on January 19, he stressed that the danger of a Russian invasion is just a “hype” rather than a real threat, and he urged his people to stay calm. But he also stressed that Russia’s attack would not be to go after Ukraine’s land, but its economy and “nerve”. On the diplomacy front, he tries to ensure Ukraine’s interests will not be betrayed in talks; this mentality has led to several assurances from the US and Germany that “no decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine”. According to the Russian medium Kommersant, Ukraine has privately proposed 10 steps to Russia for reduced tensions, such as an immediate ceasefire, release or exchange of prisoners of war, the holding of the “Normandy” quadrilateral talks and more.
In the coming week, German Chancellor Scholz will visit Moscow to meet with Putin to continue the diplomatic efforts of European leaders on the Ukraine issue after the French Prime Minister. It will be critical to observe whether they can come up with a solution that can ease the Ukraine crisis and also be acceptable to both Russia and the West.
Originally published in the “National Defense and Security Real-time Assessment”, January 26, 2022, by the Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
“Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at a Joint Press Availability,” U.S. Department of State, January 19, 2022, https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-ukrainian-foreign-minister-dmytro-kuleba-at-a-joint-press-availability/.
 “Russia: Security Proposals are Aimed at Avoiding Military Scenario,” Reuters, December 19, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-russia-ukraine-idUSL8N2T30CO.
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“Nerve” was the original word used by Volodymyr Zelensky.
“No Decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine,” Голос України, December 10, 2021, http://www.golos.com.ua/article/354358.
 Andrew Kramer, “As Russia and U.S. Debate Ukraine, Ukraine Would Like a Say,” New York Times, January 9, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/09/world/europe/ukraine-russia-negotiations.html.