Belligerent Russia, a defiant West and a Cold War-style confrontation

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which have massed troops along the border, have drawn Washington and Moscow into a Cold War-style standoff. Western intelligence officials say Russia has amassed 100,000 troops east of the former Soviet republic. They fear a new Russian invasion, modeled on Crimea in 2014. Many rounds of talks have taken place between the West and Moscow, but Russian troops remain in the area.

Tensions have arisen as Russia expressed dissatisfaction with Ukraine’s growing move towards European institutions and said it should not join NATO. The request was rejected by the Western alliance, which includes the United States, EU countries and NATO allies.

Here is a timeline of the spiraling situation:

Troop movements

On November 10, NATO warns Moscow against “aggressive action” after Washington reported unusual troop movements near the Ukrainian border.

It comes five months after Ukraine accused its larger neighbor of massing troops along its eastern border and in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. The violence in the east of the country, which is also held by Russian-backed separatists since the invasion, is also increasing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses the West of “supplying modern weapons to Kiev” and organizing provocative military exercises.

Winter Offensive?

On November 28, Ukraine claims that Russia is massing nearly 92,000 troops for an offensive in late January or early February.

Moscow categorically denies this and three days later accuses Kiev of its own military build-up, demanding “legal guarantees” that it will never join NATO.

Virtual Summit

On December 7, US President Joe Biden threatens Putin with “strong economic and other measures” during a virtual summit if he invades Ukraine. But he rules out sending troops to support Kiev.

Putin again calls for a halt to NATO’s eastward expansion and guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join.

“Massive Consequences”

On December 16, the EU and NATO warn of “massive strategic consequences if there is a new attack on the territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

The next day, Moscow presents proposals aimed at limiting American influence on the former Soviet states.

Discussions to ease tensions

On December 28, Washington and Moscow announce European security talks and two days later Biden warns that Putin’s progress hinges on “de-escalating” the Ukrainian standoff.

On January 2, 2022, Biden assured Ukraine that Washington and its allies would “respond decisively” if Russia decided to invade.

“real” threat

Three days later, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell visits the eastern front line as he pledges the bloc’s full support for Ukraine.

On Jan. 8, a senior White House official said the United States was ready to discuss with Russia the two countries’ missile systems and military exercises.

Russia rules out any concessions, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warns of the risk of confrontation.

Diplomacy Week

On January 10, senior American and Russian officials begin a week of tense talks in Geneva.

Two days later, NATO and Russia outline their differences over Ukraine at a meeting of the NATO-Russia council.

Massive cyberattack

A cyberattack on January 14 briefly knocks out major government websites in Ukraine.

Kiev says it has discovered clues that Russia may have been behind it.

On the same day, US officials allege that Russia set up agents to conduct a false flag operation to create a pretext to invade Ukraine. The Kremlin denies this.

Accumulation in Belarus

On Monday, Russian troops begin arriving in Belarus for snap military drills, which Moscow says are aimed at “countering external aggression.” US officials say the size of the force is “beyond what we expect from a normal exercise”.

The next day, Washington warned that “Russia could launch an attack against Ukraine at any time”.

Meanwhile, Moscow says it wants a response from the West to its demands before continuing talks on the eve of a visit by Blinken to Ukraine.

Despite this, NATO invites Russia to new talks.

On Wednesday, Washington announced $200 million in additional security aid to Ukraine as the threat of invasion grew.

(With contributions from AFP and AP)

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Christi C. Elwood