Lavrov said: “We live there, and this our country. But what the United States is doing in the format of its warships and military personnel who are constantly organizing different NATO activities in Ukraine, thousands of kilometers away from its own homeland, this question so far has remained unanswered.”

By Yury Apukhtin

Translated from Russian. Source:

Putin’s Changing the Strategy

The beginning of the year saw a campaign launched to provoke Russia’s military intervention into the conflict in Donbass conducted concurrently with intensified artillery shelling by Ukraine across the contact line and the movement of troops and heavy equipment demonstration including statements from Kiev with regard to Russia’s readiness to invade Ukraine; however, the Russian military and diplomatic response modalities were least expected.

Earlier, Russia would always emphasize its opposition to taking any military actions in Donbass and its desire to seek peaceful ways to resolve the conflict. This time, the military posture to defend Donbass came to the fore with the Russian military put on alert and moving toward the Ukrainian border. Ukraine and its handlers could clearly see that the invasion of the Donbass Republics if attempted, would lead to a confrontation with Russia’s armed forces resulting in the loss of statehood of Ukraine unlike was the case when “green men” were involved in the local-scale operation in 2014.

On April 13, Defense Minister Shoigu explicitly stated that “within three weeks, two armies and three airborne troops formations were successfully redeployed to the western borders of the Russian Federation tasked with combat mission training drills. Later on, it became known that those forces included the 58th Combined-Arms Army deployed in Vladikavkaz and three airborne assault divisions of the Airborne Troops out of the four available, and which had excellently performed their pacification mission assignment against the militants in the North Caucasus as well. In other words, the best combat-ready units of the Russian army are being redeployed to the areas of potential military conflict, and this is no longer just a demonstration of force, but a commitment to use it.

The Russian naval task force has also been seriously reinforced: On April 7, a fleet of warships inclusive of three artillery support and eight seaborne landing vessels and engineering support vessels with marines on board has been redeployed from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. The experts believe that in the event of an escalation of the situation in Donbass, they will be tasked with covering the marines’ landing by launching missile strikes on coastal defense strongholds.

By April 18, three large amphibious assault landing ships (LAAS) of the Northern Fleet and two amphibious assault ships of the Baltic Fleet entered the Black Sea. Now there are 11 amphibious assault ships and eight amphibious boats operating in the Black Sea with the capability of providing for seaborne assault landing operation by 4 or 5 thousand marines and the armored fighting vehicles. All this may indicate Russia’s potential strength and readiness to conduct a large-scale amphibious landing operation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov areas.

To prevent any potential interference by foreign naval warships, Russia announced that effective April 14 through October 31, in connection with military exercises, a number of maritime zones in the Kerch Strait in the direction of the Sea of Azov will be closed for free passage of foreign-flagged ships and military ships of foreign states. This measure may also qualify for the start of the economic strangulation process of the port of Mariupol.

In response, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken threatened that “Russia will pay” in case of aggressive actions on the borders with Ukraine, and the leader of a leading faction of the European Parliament called the escalation of the situation in eastern Ukraine one of the conditions for tougher sanctions to be imposed against Russia.

When asked, why Russia reacted so harshly to U.S. statements with regard to restriction of the movement of Russian troops, Lavrov said, “We live there, and this our country. But what the United States is doing in the format of its warships and its military personnel who are constantly engaged in different NATO activities in Ukraine, thousands of kilometers away from its own territory, this question so far has remained unanswered.”

The Americans also decided to flex their muscles and announced that on May 14 two US destroyers, Donald Cook and Roosevelt which are capable of carrying up to 96 cruise missiles each, would enter the Black Sea through the Bosporus. However, a few days before that date, they declared that they canceled the operation, apparently because they would have to either get involved in the conflict or silently watch, sidelined, in the event of a conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The Americans would rather avoid either of the options since they do not want to lose face, and they absolutely do not need to go to war with Russia over Ukraine.

To show their strength in the Black Sea, the Americans commissioned Great Britain, their “junior brother”, which announced on April 18 that a destroyer and an anti-submarine frigate would enter the Black Sea in May to demonstrate solidarity with Kiev. The U.S. has traditionally been in no hurry to go to war alone, as usual, doing it by the hands of others, including its allies. The Defender Europe 2021military drill will be used by the Americans to escalate the situation in accordance with their plans scheduled for the end of May in Europe, and the drills will be conducted across the entire length of the border with Russia with more than 40,000 troops from NATO countries to be involved; they make no secrets that their actions will be directed against Russia.

Lest anyone may entertain illusions about Russia’s resolve, Defense Minister Shoigu acknowledged for the first time ever that in 2014 Special Operations Forces had been used in Crimea and which conducted a brilliant operation without a single shot fired and prevented the bacchanalia taking place in Kiev and in other Ukrainian cities. The Russian media showed a series of videos featuring the weapons development projects by Russian firms, including the Kalashnikov Concern, and which covered the drones of different classes that have been successfully used in Syria and have demonstrated their effectiveness.

In addition to flexing muscles by their military, Russia and the U.S. have been involved in a major diplomatic engagement. Unexpectedly, President Biden called Putin on April 13, and expressed his interest in normalizing relations between the two countries, and invited to a meeting with him in a third country to discuss the deep divisions between the two countries, including the concentration of Russian troops near the Ukrainian borders. He also stressed the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Biden’s unexpected phone call was an indication that Washington was not ready for an all-out confrontation with Russia.

The peaceful pitch of Biden’s message looked somewhat strange after declaring that Putin was a killer. Everyone was waiting for Moscow’s reaction to the U.S. president’s proposal. According to a number of Russian experts, the U.S. is once again trying to talk Russia into making promises of peace and to get Russian troops withdrawn from the Ukrainian border. It makes sense to remember Vice-President Biden explaining the meaning of the “reset” with Moscow. In his view, the reset was about subjecting Russia to U.S. interests and even “bringing it down on its knees.”

The response from Moscow to a proposal from Biden was rather harsh. Putin’s spokesman Peskov, speaking on behalf of the Kremlin said, “It is too early to talk about the meeting in terms of specifics thereof. This is a new proposal that will have to be reviewed. The leaders have agreed that the topic of such a meeting will be discussed further through diplomatic channels.” In other words, the Kremlin has shown no desire in holding a meeting with Biden, although such a possibility has not been rejected.

The next day, Putin’s aide Ushakov invited U.S. Ambassador Sullivan to a meeting, where he laid out the Russian conditions for such a summit meeting: “If the American side, against the background of Biden’s words about the intentions to improve relations with Russia, undertakes new unfriendly actions in the format of sanctions, the Russian side will react in the strongest terms,” hinting at “Nord Stream-2”. In addition, Peskov laid out another condition: “Washington can exert its influence on Kiev to encourage Ukraine to give up its provocative actions.”

A similar Russian position was promulgated by Patrushev, the head of the Russian Security Council, who accused Ukraine and the United States of trying to unleash war and assist Kiev in preparing saboteurs to commit terrorist attacks on Russian territory. In other words, after Biden’s call, the Russian authorities’ harsh rhetoric acquired more assertive overtones rather than reducing the volume and backing off. With Moscow’s response considered, Washington has renewed its old tactics of intimidation and pressure. On the eve of Biden’s April 15 speech on relations with Russia, he signed an executive order that introduced a new legal framework for substantially expanding U.S. sanctions against Russia because it was “responsible for attempts to undermine democratic elections in the United States, involvement in hacking attacks on U.S. infrastructure, transnational corruption to influence foreign governments, damage to the security of countries and regions important to U.S. national security, including violations of their territorial integrity”. In this connection, Biden declared a national “state of emergency” allegedly in response to threats from Russia.

In his speech, the U.S. president sought to soften the effect of the decree, saying that “we represent two great powers that have a great responsibility for global stability,” and recalled that he had imposed sanctions against Russia the day before and could have gone further in doing so, but “chose a different course of action.” He said the U.S. wanted stable, predictable relations with Russia and urged Putin to “refrain from escalation” with regard to Ukraine. On April 16, Biden’s press secretary Psaki, said pejoratively that “the president believes that Russia is outside the global community in many ways. We’re in a G7 format now, not a G8 format…The president’s proposal is a bridge to get back. He believes that it is in Russia’s interest to accept it.”

In response to Washington’s actions, Moscow’s diplomatic rhetoric turned even more stringent. RF Foreign Ministry’s Maria Zakharova stressed: “The United States is not ready to put up with the objective reality of a multipolar world that excludes American hegemony, betting on sanctions pressure and interference in our internal affairs. Such aggressive behavior will certainly be met with a strong response. The response to sanctions will be unstoppable. Washington should realize that there will be a price to pay for the degradation of bilateral relations.” The Russian rhetoric is now using the word “payback” which Obama had previously uttered against Russia, and now Biden is returning to the same threats. Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Polyansky stated, “Well, now it’s our turn to ‘hold the U.S. accountable for promoting baseless accusations and initiating unfriendly actions.” And Deputy Lavrov Ryabkov called the U.S. an adversary at the official level for the first time: “The U.S. is our adversary, doing everything to undermine Russia’s position in the international arena.”

Next, the Kremlin took unprecedented steps: On April 16, presidential aide Ushakov (not the Foreign Ministry!) invited U.S. Ambassador Sullivan, and outlined Russia’s response to the new U.S. sanctions, and advised the ambassador to go back to Washington for consultations. This had never happened before in Soviet-Russian relations with the United States. The Americans ‘swallowed the pill’, calling Russia’s retaliatory measures “overtly unnecessary” and saying they should not have been applied. The U.S. ambassador refused to go home “for consultations.” Nevertheless, Moscow toughened its stance even more. Lavrov stressed that “we will limit and stop activities on our territory of American foundations and American NGOs, which are openly interfering in our internal political life.” Lavrov also said that “for obvious reasons, we do not have comparable leverage over the US on this scale, although our experts assess this scale as being absolutely within our economic capability.”

Considering the military and diplomatic actions of Russia and the United States in the Donbass Theater of Military Operations, one can note that now they are fundamentally different. For the first time ever since the beginning of the conflict, Russia is pursuing the offensive policy, raising the stakes and deliberately escalating the military situation, showing its readiness to fight the United States for its national interests as well. Such tactics have proven to be effective and are yielding certain results.

The United States, on the contrary, is not ready for such offensive and uncompromising tactics embarked on by the Kremlin and that includes Russia’s refusal to make concessions. The Americans are maneuvering, imposing sanctions, and then retreating, trying to trap the Russian leadership, as they have done so many times before. They have demonstrated their unwillingness to go for broke and clash directly with Russia. Perhaps, they remember Russia’s new military doctrine, which allows for a nuclear strike not only against troops but also against decision-making centers in the event of a threat to Russian statehood.

Only a few weeks ago, Kiev daringly proclaimed its readiness to launch a full-scale offensive and regain Donbass by force, while the West encouraged them to go further and pointed the finger at Russia as the aggressor country. When Moscow showed by word and deed that that policy would end Ukrainian statehood if a major war broke out, Kiev and the West were unprepared for a sharp increase in the stakes of their strategy of “containing Russia.” Kiev stammered about peace initiatives and the continuation of the “Minsk process,” while Washington humbly asked Moscow “not to touch” Ukraine. Russia has clearly outplayed the U.S. in the game of nerves; Moscow has a real chance to take advantage of Washington’s unwillingness to raise the stakes and strike back where it is least expected.

The Russian leadership announced new rules of the game and stressed that it would not allow U.S. satellites to stage “small victorious wars” in its border regions. At the same time, the Russian army is prepared for a clash with the enemy, including the United States, and not only in the Donbass region. Moscow’s assertiveness can no longer be stopped by economic sanctions, and it is ready to absorb the costs that are involved. The Donbass theater of operations could become a testing ground for Russia’s new tactics and strategy in relation to geopolitical adversaries and their satellites.

By all indications, the tactics of concessions and the “Minsk process” are coming to an end. No peace talks with the Ukrainian Nazis and their Western handlers can lead to peace in Donbass. Without total denazification and de-oligarchization in Ukraine, there is no one to talk to and there is nothing to talk about; the Ukrainian Reich has clearly demonstrated how to carry it out by the example of de-communization and de-russification. They will understand only the use of force, military or diplomatic, and that will have to be used at some point anyway.

History Writer, WWII