Pundit says Ukraine conflict dangerous muscle flexing

Ljubljana – Professor Boštjan Udovič criticised Russia and the US for not making efforts to reduce the growing tensions on the Ukrainian border as he commented on the situation for the STA on Tuesday. He labelled the conflict as muscle flexing similar to that witnessed in Georgia in 2008.

“The situation is becoming dangerous and I fear that something could actually happen,” he said about the heavy build-up of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.

Udovič says that while only the US and Russia are involved in talks to resolve the situation, the EU is not constructive and active enough.

The professor at the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences said the tensions had emerged a year after the change at the White House and the catastrophic withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan.

He believes that Russia has realised that with the changed balance of power, it could put pressure Washington more resolutely to pursue its interests.

“US President Joe Biden is very cautious in all international campaigns and in this context, he leaves too much room to other players in the international community.”

The muscle flexing could lead to an incident and consequently a conflict, but Udovič hopes this will not happen.

“Russia certainly does not want to occupy Ukraine. It does want to limit NATO expansion, however,” he said, adding that this is where two conflicting views collide.

“On the one hand, there is Russia’s view that it must protect its border and thus needs a buffer zone, and then there is the Western view that every country that wants to join NATO and meets the criteria can join it.”

Udovič said the West had not kept its promise not to expand eastward, and added that in looking for a way out of the conflict “both sides should take a step backward”.

“The West should in a way pledge that NATO expansion would happen in agreement with Russia and keep its promise from the 1990s about the non-expansion.

“Russia, on the other hand, should immediately withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian border and stop posing a threat to Ukraine.”

Although Russia will not receive a formal commitment that NATO will not expand, in diplomacy there are also informal commitments, Udovič said.

He believes “the conflict can only be resolved in talks which feature all key players, the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine”, adding Ukraine is now treated like “a war booty”.

Asked what role Slovenia could play, he said that as an EU member, it should make an effort for the EU’s external policy to become more proactive. As a NATO member, it should make an effort to reduce the tensions as soon as possible. “And it must not make the mistake of taking sides in this dispute. It must primarily advocate its foreign policy principles and values.”