Moscow sends medical units to the Ukrainian border

The move by the Russian government has intensified discussions among leaders of allied countries, who have taken different positions on the possibility of a real conflict in Ukraine

PHOTO/AP  -   A convoy of Russian armoured vehicles moves along a road in Crimea, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

The tense standoff between Russia and Ukraine over their border positions continues to be the subject of supposition and contradictory conjecture. While diplomatic efforts between the two governments - along with representatives of Washington, the European Union and NATO - seem to be trying to ward off the idea of a possible military confrontation, voices of discord within the Russian and US administrations could turn the tide in another direction.

President Joe Biden has maintained that a Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory could be 'imminent', and has encouraged his partners to send troops to the country. However, despite Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov's scepticism and "lack of optimism" about reaching an agreement with Washington, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared in an interview with the country's radio media that "if it depends on Russia, there will be no war". 

AP/PATRICK SEMANSKY  - President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' on 16 June 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland.

"We don't want wars. But neither will we allow our interests to be rudely trampled on, to be ignored," the Moscow official added, referring to Russia's demands to withdraw the tens of thousands of troops the Kremlin had moved to the Ukrainian border, as well as two tank divisions. The list of demands included, among others, a ban on Kiev's membership of NATO, guarantees that the organisation would not expand further eastwards, and the withdrawal of troops. These demands have been flatly refused by the North Atlantic Alliance, to which Washington has recently responded officially and in line with NATO's position. Now, amid tensions that are growing by the hour, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems likely to take this refusal in stride.

Nonetheless, the dispatch of Russian medical units to the Ukrainian border has given fuel to speculation about a possible attack by Putin. In this regard, major medical training exercises by the Russian military have also been made public, involving around 1,200 military police and armed forces medics. 

PHOTO/AFP - PHOTO/AFP - Ukrainian servicemen patrol along a frontline position with Russian-backed separatists in Avdiivka, Donetsk region on April 5, 2021.

These moves represent a level of preparedness that has so far not been reached in the escalation of tensions, and have led many Western leaders to believe that these are the final preparations before the invasion. While it is true that this development does not signify an unavoidable attack, this has not prevented the debate among allied countries from intensifying profoundly.

Moreover, the precedents set by the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the interference of Russian influence and forces in the Donbas war have only increased the sense of threat from Ukraine, the US and the EU.

In this escalation of tensions, Western allies have joined forces to support Ukraine. Although the Eastern European country is not a NATO member, and member states are not legally obliged to provide arms and defence assistance, all NATO signatories have positioned themselves politically and economically in favour of Kiev. And while few - and very restrained - countries have supplied military hardware to Ukraine, a number of states have mobilised to carry out deterrence measures against the Kremlin. 

PHOTO/Eurofighter GmbH - A convoluted agreement by the Council of Ministers authorises the purchase of an unknown number of Hawk project fighters, which are none other than EF-2000 Eurofighters, for an unknown amount of money.

Among them is Spain, which has brought forward to next week the dispatch of four Eurofighter fighters from the 14th Air Force Wing equipped with Meteor missiles - the latest generation of active-tracking air-to-air missiles. According to Defence Minister Margarita Robles, the planes "will leave in February" from the Los Llanos base in Albacete for Bulgaria, and will collaborate in the surveillance of European airspace. Thus, after the frigate Blas de Lezo, the minehunter Sella and the Maritime Action Vessel Meteoro set sail for the Black Sea, Spanish forces in the region will exceed 650 soldiers.

To these will be added the 8,500 US troops prepared for combat, but who, according to the Pentagon's statements to the BBC, will only be deployed if NATO decides to activate rapid reaction forces. Similarly, the United Kingdom has already provided a shipment of arms to the country, while other powers such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Canada will collaborate by sending more weapons and financial contributions.

Germany, for its part, has announced that it will not join the other NATO member states in providing military supplies, although it has contributed a field medical centre. "For many years, the German government has been seeking a unified strategy on this issue, and that includes not exporting lethal weapons," said Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a press conference in Berlin, together with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.