The Buildup to War in Ukraine

On the even of February 15 the Russian Foreign Ministry released information about a phone call between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. CGTN reported on February 16:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday called on the U.S. to drop aggressive rhetoric in dialogue on security guarantees and demonstrate pragmatic approach to this topic, state-owned Tass news agency reports.Lavrov held a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which the Russian diplomat stressed the need to continue working together.

“On our part, it was stressed that it is necessary to continue joint work, as was agreed by Presidents [of Russia Vladimir] Putin and [of the United States Joe] Biden during their telephone call on February 12, in the context of the US and NATO proposals on security guarantees,” TASS quotes the Russian foreign ministry.

“Lavrov specially stressed the inadmissibility of aggressive rhetoric fanned by Washington and its closest allies and called for a pragmatic dialogue on the entire spectrum of issues raised by Russia, with a focus on the principle of indivisible security.”

Russia had previously sent demands for talks on several issues to the U.S. and NATO. The most important point for Russia had been the term ‘indivisible security’ in the sense that security for one side should not interfere with the security of the other side.

This term is included in several treaties with Russia. It claimed that the expansion of NATO was threatening its security and thereby breaching those treaties. While the U.S. denied this, it is obvious that all NATO expansion were increasing the potential danger for Russia. Russia and NATO were thus put into a classic security dilemma:

In international relations, the security dilemma (also referred to as the spiral model) is when the increase in one state’s security (such as increasing its military strength) leads other states to fear for their own security (because they do not know if the security-increasing state intends to use its growing military for offensive purposes). Consequently, security-increasing measures can lead to tensions, escalation or conflict with one or more other parties, producing an outcome which no party truly desires; a political instance of the prisoner’s dilemma.

The U.S. had responded to the Russian paper by conceding on some minor points that Russia had long demanded but not on any of the big questions of which the most important one was ‘indivisible security’.

On February 2 2022 I had described the process in detail:

[I]n mid December Russia started to counter the U.S. move. It published two draft treaties, one with the U.S. and one with NATO, that included stringent security demands:

No more NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders.
Retraction of the 2008 NATO invitation to Ukraine and Georgia.
Removal of foreign NATO forces from east Europe.
Legally binding guarantee that no strike systems which could target Moscow will be deployed in countries near to Russia.
No NATO or equivalent (UK, U.S., Pl.) ‘exercises’ near Russian borders.
NATO ships, planes to keep certain distances from Russian borders.
Regular military-to-military talks.
No U.S. nukes in Europe.

Russia requested written responses and threatened to take ‘military technical’ measures should the responses be negative. Russia also planned for and launched new military exercises.

The responses were received but, following a U.S. request, Russia refrained from publishing them. They were leaked to El Pais, published today and can be downloaded here (pdf).

The U.S. response to Russia’s draft treaties is professional. While it rejects Russia’s main demands, especially a neutral status for the Ukraine, it concedes on minor issues and offers additional talks on them. The NATO response is in contrast highly ideological and rejects all of Russia’s points while making new demands towards Russia which are designed to be rejected. (Future negotiations are now likely to exclude NATO.)

Russia has yet to officially respond to the received letters. During a news conference after talks with the Prime Minister of Hungary the Russian President remarked on the letters:

[W]hile ignoring our concerns, the United States and NATO are referring to the right of states to freely choose specific methods to ensure their security. But this is not only about providing someone with the right to freely choose methods to ensure their security. This is only one part of the well-known indivisible security formula. The second inalienable part implies that it is impossible to strengthen anyone’s security at the expense of other states’ security.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has send a letter to several NATO countries in which it requests their official opinions on several agreements they have signed which include clauses on the indivisibility of security:

The very essence of the agreements on indivisible security is that either there is security for all or there is no security for anyone.

How is the signing of those treaties and indivisible security for all compatible with the aggressive NATO expansion aimed at Russia? ‘Western’ foreign ministries will find it difficult to answer that question.

France 24 listed some of its relevant headlines of the day:

Ukraine crisis: Moscow announces end of Crimea drills, NATO unconvinced
Russia’s parliament asks Putin to recognise breakaway east Ukrainian regions
Ukraine crisis: Russian pullout meets Western allies scepticism
‘Day of Unity’: Ukrainians raise flags to defy Russia invasion fear
NATO says Russia appears to be continuing military escalation in Ukraine
NATO chief says Russia appears to be continuing military build-up around Ukraine

The OSCE Special Observer Mission at the ceasefire line in southeast-Ukraine reported of February 16 that the number of ceasefire violations had suddenly jumped to above average. Artillery exchanges took place on many parts of the front.

In Donetsk region, the SMM recorded 189 ceasefire violations, including 128 explosions. In the previous reporting period, it recorded 24 ceasefire violations in the region.In Luhansk region, the Mission recorded 402 ceasefire violations, including 188 explosions. In the previous reporting period, it recorded 129 ceasefire violations in the region.

On February 16 the observers noticed several self propelled howitzer (2S1 Govzdika, 122 mm) in violation of withdrawal lines. Four were seen on the Ukrainian government side and two on the non-government side.

After three days that had been more or less quite the sudden jump in fighting was particularly noticeable.


The map shows explosions, the small black dots, on both sides of the ceasefire line.


Reprinted with permission from Moon of Alabama.

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