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CNA Russia Studies Program
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The following is an excerpt from the first section of this report:

Western support for Ukraine

Over the past two weeks, Western support for Ukraine has been the most frequent topic for discussion in Russian articles focused on Western military activities. Topics include a review of the impact of Lloyd Austin’s visit to the region, reaction to Western statements on increased tension in the Donbas, and concern about direct NATO military support for Ukraine.

Writing in, Yevgeny Fedorov summarizes Lloyd Austin’s visit to the Black Sea region. He suggests that the US secretary of defense is not well versed on issues of international politics and is uncomfortable in interacting with media. He believes that this is the reason that Austin did not even mention the imprisonment of Mikhail Saakashvili during his visit to Georgia, much less press the Georgian leadership to release him. He argues that this part of the trip amounted to little beyond empty statements about potential future agreements, suggesting that the United States is satisfied with the status quo in the region. Austin’s Ukraine visit also largely reaffirmed the status quo, but in this case the status quo includes continuing supplies of weapons to the Ukrainian military. Fedorov argues that weapons such as grenade launchers and armor-piercing munitions will not improve Ukraine’s ability to fight the Russian military but will help it attack “the peaceful inhabitants of the Donbas.” He concludes by suggesting that the reason that the United States is unwilling to make greater investments in its Black Sea partners is that its primary geopolitical focus has shifted to Asia and competition with China, and Ukraine and Georgia are therefore distinctly secondary for Washington.

Vladimir Mukhin, also writing about the Austin visit to Ukraine, reaches a very different conclusion in a Nezavisimaya Gazeta article. He suggests that Secretary Austin’s promises that the United States would support Ukraine in its fight against Russia were taken by Kyiv as a directive to act, resulting in a military buildup in the Donbas and the start of implementation of a territorial defense plan for Ukraine. He also highlights recent calls by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper for European states to remove limitations on the transfer of lethal weapons to Ukraine. He suggests that while Russia will inevitably react to Ukrainian military activities, there is as of yet no evidence of a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s borders, despite claims to the contrary in the Western press.

Other articles also minimize the significance of Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s borders. A short article in Novye Izvestiya quotes General Milley as stating that the United States does not consider current Russian troop movements aggressive. It also notes that while Kyiv initially stated that its intelligence had not noted any suspicious troop movements, Ukrainian politicians quickly changed their minds and started speaking about the need to prepare for an escalation in the Donbas conflict. It concludes by quoting Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova describing Western reports about potential Russian military escalation as a fresh fake news campaign on the part of US media.

An analytic article in Izvestiya similarly suggests that there is little to the reports of the concentration of Russian forces. It notes that the 144th Division in Yelnya was established some time ago and is located closer to Belarus than to Ukraine. It suggests that the recent articles in the Western press on this topic are part of a continuing effort to establish an image of Russia as an aggressive state in order to justify US troop presence in Europe and NATO’s concentration of forces on Russia’s borders, with the Ukraine conflict serving as a convenient theme for this effort.

The article goes on to discuss Ukraine’s acquisition of Turkish Bayraktar UAVs and the possibility that these platforms could affect the military balance in the Donbas. It cites a Russian military analyst who is concerned that American policy-makers believe that the combination of Turkish UAVs and calls by US officials for more European military assistance to Ukraine may signal a change to a more confrontational posture and more active support for Ukraine on the part of NATO and the United States. The possibility of a Karabakh scenario is mentioned in this context. The use of Turkish UAVs is also briefly analyzed in a article, which is otherwise focused on specific details of the Donbas fighting. It suggests that Kyiv is trying to create tensions between Moscow and Ankara, and has succeeded in this effort to some extent. 

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  • Pages: 16
  • Document Number: DOP-2021-U-031206-1Rev
  • Publication Date: 11/7/2021
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