With more than 100,000 Russian troops amassed on the Ukrainian border, the UK government has announced that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit Eastern Europe as part of his efforts to negotiate peace in the region.
This will also be a welcome distraction from the so-called Partygate scandal that threatens to undermine his premiership.
Johnson told reporters last week: “The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the borders of Ukraine. The plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see.”
This followed a virtual meeting the prime minister attended, along with the United States, Italy, Poland, France, Germany, the European Council, the European Commission, and NATO, where “leaders agreed on the importance of international unity in the face of growing Russian hostility,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
Surprisingly, the very nation those leaders are seeking to protect, Ukraine, has a different view. Instead of welcoming help to defend his nation, President Volodymyr Zelensky sees such Western intervention as part of the problem and doesn’t agree that war is imminent.
“These signals have come even from respected world leaders, who speak openly and with undiplomatic language,” he told a gathering of Western reporters in Kyiv. “They say simply ‘Tomorrow, there will be war.’ This is panic. How much does it cost for our state?”
The price in financial terms is inflation rising by 10 percent and the value of the Ukrainian hryvnia slumping by 6 percent against the dollar, all in just one month.
When the 44-year-old leader added that the “destabilization of the situation inside the country” is the biggest threat to Ukraine, he wasn’t talking about Russian subversion, but the negative effects of Western diplomatic exaggeration on both Ukraine’s economy and his people’s morale.
That “panic” has seen the U.S. State Department advise Americans to leave the country and begin to empty its embassy. Johnson has done likewise with British Embassy staff.
“We do think it prudent to make some changes now,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zelensky strongly disapproves of such moves.
“Diplomats are like captains,” he said. “They should be the last to leave a sinking ship. And Ukraine is not the Titanic.”
Nevertheless, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne announced that “President [Joe] Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February.”
President Joe Biden told reporters last week: “I made it clear to President Putin that we have a sacred obligation, Article 5 obligation, to our NATO allies. And that if, in fact, he continued to build up and/or was to move, we would be reinforcing those troops.”
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, concurred with the president.
“I think you’d have to go back quite a while to the Cold War days to see something of this magnitude,” he said.
Zelensky dismissed his assessment as well, claiming, “We’ve been in this situation for eight years.”
The Kyiv Post wrote, “The movements represent 130,000 Russian well-equipped soldiers being deployed around Ukraine, 20,000 more than in December.”
Zelensky once again downplayed the increase.
“We see troops coming and going … some being withdrawn,” he said.
Since Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, the United States has no sacred obligation to defend it. And yet the standoff is all about NATO membership—the West wants Ukraine in and Russia doesn’t.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Moscow would “retaliate” if its demands for a halt to NATO expansion aren’t met. He wasn’t specific about what that would entail, although he denies that Russia is intending to move into Ukraine, saying that his country is just negotiating from a position of strength.
For a comparison, imagine the Chinese response if the West was seeking NATO membership for Taiwan, a “non-country” that isn’t even allowed to join the World Health Organization.
The Western response would make sense if Russia was threatening to move into Eastern Europe, restart the Cold War, or nuke the United States, but it isn’t. Moscow’s demand is simple to understand: It doesn’t wish to have NATO’s sophisticated weaponry and troops pointed at it on its Western border—think of Russian nukes in Cuba or U.S. forces in Taiwan.
When I was in Crimea in 1992, just a year after Ukraine gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, people there told me that one very large problem still remained: The Russian Black Sea fleet was based in Sevastopol, on the tiny Crimean peninsula. This was Russia’s only port that didn’t freeze over in the winter, and it was controlled by a foreign nation: Ukraine.
Ukraine’s claim to Crimea only dates back to 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Kyiv to administer while they were all part of the Soviet Union. When Putin took back control of it in 2014, he felt as though he was merely correcting his predecessor’s folly. A referendum of Crimean people supported the move, which the West and Ukraine deemed to be unlawful.
The West doesn’t want to yield to Russia’s demand, since it’s absolutely in its interests for Ukraine to join NATO and the EU. In 2014, when then-President Viktor Yanukovych wished to strengthen ties with Russia, he was overthrown and replaced by the pro-Western Petro Poroshenko. Many accused the EU of some involvement in what became a bloody uprising.
One of those accusers was none other than Boris Johnson.
“If you want an example of EU foreign policymaking on the hoof, and the EU’s pretensions to be running a defense policy, that has caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in Ukraine,” he said in 2016.
Ukraine is also home to energy giant Burisma Holdings, which gave Hunter Biden a well-paid seat on its board in 2014, despite him having no previous experience in the energy sector. He joined Burisma the same month that his father visited Kyiv to show support for the new interim government.
When a prosecutor was later brought in to investigate corruption in that company, then-Vice President Biden threatened to withdraw $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless the prosecutor was fired within eight hours—he was fired.
But if Biden was expecting similar compliance when he phoned Kyiv last week to discuss U.S. intervention, he instead received a less than grateful response from Zelensky. Ukrainian officials later told CNN that the call “did not go well.”
On top of the Ukrainian president’s many problems with Russia, he now has two beleaguered Western leaders—Biden and Johnson—wrecking his economy and inflaming an already tense situation.
While foreign policy may have become the new last refuge of a Western politician, Zelensky remains pragmatic.
“Life will go on, a new generation will come,” he said at the end of a press conference. “We need to agree to negotiate.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.