Putin met his Belarusian counterpart Lukashenko on Monday to discuss NATO’s “increased activity” in Ukraine. Ukrainian units began military exercises with NATO and US forces last week. Four thousand Ukrainians and two thousand Western soldiers are participating in the maneuvers.
The exercise, Rapid Trident 2021, comes on the heels of a large-scale joint military exercise between Russia and Belarus along the borders of Ukraine and NATO countries. Up to 200,000 soldiers took part in this.
The Kremlin appears to be even more alarmed by the presence of US units stationed in Ukraine since April on a training mission. “They are bringing NATO forces to Ukraine,” Lukashenko said after meeting Putin. Under the guise of training centers, they are already creating bases in the country. Obviously, we have to respond to that.
Russia is also likely to be concerned about the US Congress’ call to supply Ukraine with more weapons. These include Iron Dome anti-aircraft systems. But it is doubtful whether the Biden administration would agree, fearing that it would inflame tension in the region.
There is no NATO acceptance yet
According to Lukashenko, he and Putin agreed that something had to be done. “Otherwise, tomorrow we will have an unacceptable situation on the borders with Russia and Belarus.” He did not say what actions the countries planned to take.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ignored the Kremlin’s threats. He tweeted that Russia should not interfere in the situation in Ukraine. Putin’s “red lines” end at Russia’s borders. On our side of the border, we decide for ourselves what to do in the interests of the Ukrainian people and the security of Ukraine and Europe.
Relations between the two countries have been very poor since Russia seized Crimea in 2014 and provided military support to pro-Russian separatists who seized power in the east of the country.
Ukraine has been pushing to join NATO for years, much to Russia’s chagrin. According to Moscow, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the military alliance of Eastern Europe, the West promised that NATO would not expand eastward.
At the moment, there is little incentive in NATO to accept Ukraine. The conflict with Russia over Crimea and pro-Russian breakaway regions plays an important role in this. To his disappointment, Ukraine has not yet been accepted into the Membership Action Plan, a kind of online portal for NATO.
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