Vladimir Putin’s message was as clear — and familiar — as his method. The Kremlin has begun another major build-up of troops along Ukraine’s border. The reason? Retaliation: last month, president Volodimir Zelenskiy flew to Washington to renew his plea that Ukraine be allowed to join Nato.
The massive show of force — the second this year — prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to warn his European allies that Russia showed dangerous signs of invading its smaller southern neighbour. ‘Our concern is that Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014 when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory and did so claiming falsely that it was provoked,’ Blinken told reporters on Friday. ‘We don’t have clarity into Moscow’s intentions, but we do know its playbook.’
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted on Friday that Russia ‘does not pose a threat to anyone’ and accused Nato countries of taking ‘provocative actions’. But satellite images tell a different story. Russia has deployed a major movement of ground troops, armoured units, tanks and self-propelled artillery massing outside the town of Yelnya, close to Russia’s borders with Belarus and Ukraine.
The last time Putin pulled the same manoeuvre back in March, his evident intention was to send a strong message to the incoming Biden administration that he would not tolerate western interference in Ukraine — and, perhaps more importantly, that he refused to be ignored. During his campaign, Biden promised to make Russia pay for misdeeds such as the alleged interference in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, the attempted assassination of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, and cyber hacks on US strategic infrastructure.
After a few weeks of furore from western capitals, Putin stood down his troops.