World Leaders Denounce Russian Military Buildup
Border tensions have increased calls from Ukraine for entry into the NATO alliance.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: G-7 warns Russia on troop buildup, India approves Sputnik V vaccine, and the Taliban pull out of peace talks in Turkey.
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G-7 Calls On Russia to De-Escalate in Ukraine
In a joint statement, G-7 nations have called on Russia to “immediately de-escalate tensions” and cease its “threatening and destabilizing activities” near the Ukrainian border and Crimea.
The announcement comes as an estimated 80,000 Russian troops have massed near the border with Ukraine in recent weeks, raising fears of an escalation in Russia’s support for a seven-year war between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops in the Donbass region of Ukraine.
Russia has dismissed such fears as overblown. “Questions are being asked about what Russia is doing on the border with Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday. “The answer is very simple. We live there; it’s our country. But what is the United States doing thousands of kilometers from its own territory with its warships and troops in Ukraine?”
The U.S. deployment of two warships to the Black Sea was announced by Turkey on Friday, although U.S. officials have not confirmed the mission.
While an escalation to a large-scale ground invasion would not fit with Russia’s recent history of more covert operations, the buildup has given Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a platform to make the case for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. His foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, is set to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels Tuesday.
A call for action. Writing in Foreign Policy on Monday, Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, says NATO’s current approach to Ukraine is “insufficient” and has called for negotiations to begin on a membership action plan for the country.
A long wait. NATO membership is unlikely to come soon, with the addition of North Macedonia in 2020—NATO’s most recent member—coming after a process that began in 1999. The rules of membership would also have to be bent, as the bloc doesn’t allow members that are currently engaged in territorial disputes.
High stakes. Olga Oliker, a Russia expert at the International Crisis Group, told Foreign Policy that if NATO is going to extend membership to Ukraine, the alliance needs to understand the stakes. “If you want to say you’re going to defend Ukraine, say you’re going to defend Ukraine, membership or no membership,” Oliker said. “If you’re trying to avoid defending Ukraine by trying to offer it membership in an alliance, it’s a little bit backwards.”
What We’re Following Today
Taliban back out of talks. Taliban leaders have pulled out of U.S.-backed peace talks, slated for April 16 in Turkey, forcing a postponement of the proposed summit. The move, which the Taliban said was made because the group’s “consultations have not ended on this topic,” means the prospect of a cease-fire in Afghanistan has been further delayed and is a sign that U.S. plans for an interim government are unlikely to be accepted by the group. Without an agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government, it’s also likely that a May 1 deadline agreed between the United States and the Taliban to remove all U.S. troops will not be met.
India approves Sputnik V. India has approved the use of the Russian-made Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, adding a third option to its vaccine rollout as the country battles another wave of infections. The Russian Direct Investment Fund said it had signed deals with six Indian manufacturers to produce 750 million doses. India has administered 108 million vaccine doses so far.
Unrest in Minnesota. Police used tear gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse a crowd in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis, as they protested the killing of Daunte Wright, a Black man shot by a police officer on Sunday. The killing has inflamed tensions already heightened as the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged in the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, takes place a 15-minute drive away.
Keep an Eye On
Chancellor choices. The two parties that make up Germany’s center-right political bloc diverged on their choice of candidate for chancellor on Monday, as the Bavarian Christian Social Union picked Markus Söder, while the Christian Democratic Union’s executive committee backed Armin Laschet, the current party chair. Söder has called for consultations with party leaders to address the split and has popularity on his side. A recent poll of German voters showed Söder as the most popular choice for chancellor, with 36 percent support; only 3 percent of those polled supported Laschet.
China tests Taiwan. The Chinese air force flew 25 aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Monday, in the largest reported incursion since Taiwan began regular reporting last year. The mission, which involved 18 fighter jets and four bombers, is considered part of Beijing’s increased military activity around the island in response to what it has called “collusion” between the United States and Taiwan.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday expressed concern about China’s actions in the Taiwan Strait, warning that using force to change the region’s status quo would be a “serious mistake.” The flights also come after the U.S. State Department issued new guidelines to reflect the “deepening unofficial relationship” between Washington and Taipei last week.
Water worries. Japan will begin releasing radioactive water from its damaged Fukushima nuclear plant within the next two years, the government announced Tuesday, in a move that has angered fishermen and residents as well as Japan’s neighbors. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said releasing the water into the ocean was the most realistic option as the decades-long process of decommissioning the plant continues. China has called the move “extremely irresponsible,” while South Korea said it was “completely unacceptable.”
Odds and Ends
French lawmakers have approved a bill that would ban short domestic flights as the country attempts to lower its carbon emissions. If enacted, the law would end air routes that can be served by train journeys in under two and a half hours—a compromise considering the bill’s supporters originally wanted to end routes with a four-hour train journey alternative. The bill will not face resistance from Air France, as abandoning the affected routes was a condition of its government bailout in May 2020. The proposal now goes to the French Senate for further debate.
Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn