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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – February 16, 2022

Today in Russia/CIS: Russia says it is pulling back some troops after military drills end; EU not happy with Duma plan to recognize separatist Ukraine regions; Ukraine cyber-attack; Navalny faces even more years in jail with latest trial; Scholtz latest visitor to the Kremlin; Russia’s unprecedented level of freedom on the global stage; Japan urges West not to back down re Ukraine as signal to China

Pull back! Russia said it would pull back some troops massed along Ukraine’s border after it said some military exercises had come to an end. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba declared “When we see the withdrawal, we will believe in de-escalation,” while US President Joe Biden said Russian troops remain “very much in a threatening position” and that “an invasion remains distinctly possible.”

Jaw Jaw > War War. Russia and the US are engaged in a war of words over Ukraine. The New York Times wrote that “Each side is trying to convince the other that the price of conflict is too high. It is a complex game played with deliberate ambiguity, raising the risk of lethal miscalculation.”

EU to Russian Duma: Only recognize real countries, please. The European Union is not pleased with a proposal by the Russian Duma to recognize the breakaway territories of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted, “The EU strongly condemns the Russian State Duma’s decision to submit a call to President Putin to recognize the non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine as independent entities...This recognition would be a clear violation of the Minsk agreements.”

Putin to EU: But we want to resolve the issue amicably. On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers voted to adopt a resolution that calls on President Vladimir Putin to formally recognize the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine. Then, in a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz, Putin commented on the resolution, declaring, “We should do everything [possible] to resolve the Donbas problems, but do this in the way the Federal Chancellor spoke about, primarily, based on the not fully realized opportunities for the implementation of the Minsk agreements,” Putin said.

War by cyber. Ukraine suffered a DDoS attack, with key government agencies and banks targeted. Reuters wrote, The online networks of Ukraine’s defence ministry and two banks were overwhelmed on Tuesday and Ukraine’s information security centre pointed the finger at neighbouring Russia.” A statement from the Ukrainian Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security wrote, “It is not ruled out that the aggressor used tactics of little dirty tricks because its aggressive plans are not working out on a large scale.”

Sham trial, jail, rinse, repeat. Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny could face many more years behind bars as yet another trial began which could tack on another 15 years to his jail term. Meduza wrote, “Already serving a nearly three-year prison sentence, Navalny now stands accused of fraud and contempt of court — charges that could prolong his incarceration by up to 15 years. In a strange twist, Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court held Tuesday’s hearing offsite, at the penal colony in the Vladimir region where Navalny has been in custody since February 2021.”

Roll out the r̶e̶d̶ c̶a̶r̶p̶e̶t̶ really long table. German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz met President Vladimir Putin in Moscow yesterday. Ukraine was high on the agenda of the meeting, which took place at the comically large table separating the two world leaders – the same table where French President Emmanuel Macron sat the week prior during his Kremlin visit (the official reason is that both European leaders refused to take Russian-administered PCR tests). Scholtz arrived directly from Kyiv, where he met Ukraine’s President Vodolymyr Zelensky on Monday.

“The most important thing is that we manage relations between countries through good discussions with each other,” Scholtz declared to Putin, adding that “it is our absolute duty as heads of government that Europe does not see an escalation into war.”

Unprecedented freedom! Russia is currently enjoying a moment of unprecedented freedom in its ability to act on the foreign stage, Sergey Poletayev argued in Russia in Global Affairs. Poletayev says this is because Russia enjoys a nuclear deterrent while also not being constrained by ideology, as it was during the days of the USSR. What’s more, when the West’s direct interests are not challenged, recent history has shown that the West will acquiesce to Russia’s strident foreign policy actions: “When it does not concern its own spheres of influence (Europe and the New World), the West either reluctantly accepts Russia’s actions (Syria), or does not notice at all (Kazakhstan), or even welcomes it (Afghanistan).

Think about China! Japan has warned the US and NATO that it should not back down against Russia vis a vis Ukraine, arguing that Beijing is following events very closely and will judge Western resolve on the basis of the Ukraine crisis. “We have to be very solid’ against using force to change the status quo,” Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told the Wall Street Journal in an interview, adding “If something happens on the Ukraine border, that outcome might affect other people’s calculations in Asia,” in a vague but unmistakable reference to China and the Taiwan issue.

PHOTO: Vladimir Putin met his German counterpart Olaf Scholz in the Kremlin at the same very long table as he met French President Macron the week prior (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/DPA)