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Did Putin inadvertently create a stronger NATO?

What’s happening in the Ukraine-Russia crisis

A Ukrainian army soldier walks in the town of Schastia, near the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, on Feb. 22, 2022, a day after Russia recognized separatist republics in eastern Ukraine and ordered the Russian army to send troops there as “peacekeepers.” (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
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Tensions between NATO and Russia have risen to their highest level in years as Russia sends troops into eastern Ukraine and Washington and its European allies try to deter further invasion.

Putin orders troops to eastern Ukraine after formally recognizing two Moscow-backed separatist regions

The latest developments

In a long, televised speech to his nation Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two Moscow-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian forces onto their territory for “peacekeeping” purposes.

The White House on Tuesday called Russia’s deployment of troops into two pro-Russian separatist regions of Ukraine “the beginning of an invasion.”

Putin’s action was swiftly condemned by many Western leaders, as well as at a late-night emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. President Biden issued an executive order prohibiting U.S. investment and trade in the breakaway regions.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday that Berlin would halt the regulatory approval process for Nord Stream 2, a controversial natural gas pipeline project connecting Russia and Germany.

These countries are withdrawing embassy staffers from Ukraine

The standoff

The Russian view: Kremlin officials have focused on the 2015 Minsk peace deal, which was designed to end a conflict between Kyiv and Moscow-backed separatists in the contested Donbas region of eastern Ukraine after the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The Kremlin has accused Ukrainian officials of not fulfilling their side of the agreement.

Moscow also has sought assurances that Ukraine, a former Soviet state, will never be allowed to join NATO. In a Dec. 17 ultimatum presented to the United States, Russia said it wanted commitments that NATO would withdraw troops from countries that joined the military alliance after 1997.

President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia was opposed to any eastward NATO expansion “because it poses a common threat to us.”

When it comes to Ukraine, what do Russian citizens actually want?

The Ukrainian view: Officials in Kyiv have criticized the Minsk deal, which was brokered after a string of military losses.

Still, officials say, they are open to talks — provided they take place in a third country not allied with Russia. (The 2015 agreement was negotiated in Belarus, whose leader, Alexander Lukashenko, is an ally of Putin’s.) Some Ukrainian diplomats have suggested they could be willing to make concessions to avoid war.

In the meantime, more Ukrainians are starting to pack emergency bags, plan escape routes and learn basic survival and self-defense skills.

‘We need to go’: A burst of gunfire on Ukraine’s front line and echoes of wider risks with Russia

The Western view: The United States and other allies have said they support the 2015 Minsk deal but have called on all parties to live up to their parts of the bargain.

The Biden administration has rejected Russia’s demands on NATO and instead called for Moscow to pull its forces back from the Ukrainian border and to stop supporting separatists in Donbas.

A grim U.S. assessment reported this month concludes that Russia soon may complete preparations for what appears to be a large-scale invasion. The review predicted that a war could cause Ukraine’s government to collapse within two days, kill or wound as many as 50,000 civilians and displace 5 million people.

What is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and why is Biden vowing to stop it if Russia invades Ukraine?

The military balance

Russian troops: Moscow began moving troops to regions bordering Ukraine last year. According to U.S. assertions, as many as 190,000 Russian personnel have massed in or near Ukraine.

The Biden administration has said it believes that Russia is planning to invade, possibly after Moscow creates a pretext by broadcasting staged images of civilian casualties to drum up anger against Kyiv.

If executed, a full-scale invasion of Ukraine probably would be the largest land offensive in Europe since World War II.

NATO forces: The United States has responded by sending more troops to Eastern Europe. Nearly 5,000 U.S. soldiers are now in Poland, and additional troops were sent to Romania.

NATO allies also have repositioned military hardware, with Denmark and Belgium sending F-15 and F-16 fighter jets to the Baltics last month. Britain has offered to send jets, warships and military specialists, as well.

NATO allies have said that they would not send troops to Ukraine in the event of an invasion. Ukraine is not a NATO member and, therefore, is not covered by the alliance’s collective-defense clause. Washington and London said Feb. 12 that they would pull military personnel on training missions in Ukraine.

What about Ukraine? Ukraine’s political leadership has largely played down the risk of conflict, with Zelensky telling Ukrainians to “take a breath” and “calm down.”

But he also signed into law in February plans to strengthen the country’s armed forces, bringing them from 250,000 active troops to about 361,000. That is equal to about a third of Russia’s 900,000 troops.

Earlier this month, a former defense minister of Ukraine, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, called the situation “pretty dire.” He assessed that Russia had massed enough troops to occupy Kyiv or another city but not enough to seize the entire country. Concern from Kyiv appeared to mount, and Ukraine hosted a military exercise of its own while officials condemned the Russian operations as a threat to Ukrainian sovereignty.


All sides have said that they are willing to talk. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz sat down with Zelensky and Putin last week. Ahead of his trip to Moscow, Scholz said he would underscore to Putin that any attack on Ukraine would have “serious political, economic and geostrategic consequences.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, next week, as long as Russia has not launched an invasion by that point. This past weekend, Vice President Harris and other Western officials discussed the crisis at a security conference in Munich. Harris met with Zelensky and reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered to mediate talks between Ukraine and Russia. His offer was greeted warmly by Zelensky, who was hosting the Turkish leader in Kyiv. Turkey is a member of NATO but has maintained relations with Russia — even, controversially, buying Russian-made missile defense systems.

One potential U.S. concession: Officials confirmed recently that they offered to let Russia inspect missile defense systems in Romania and Poland to verify that there are no Tomahawk cruise missiles there. In return, the United States would seek inspections of similar sites in Russia. The United States has long maintained that no Tomahawk missiles are deployed in Europe, despite Russian claims.

Here’s where countries stand on the Russia-Ukraine crisis

What’s next?

Sanctions? Western nations have warned of retaliatory sanctions against Russia if aggression continues, potentially targeting even Putin himself. The Biden administration has discussed everything from blocking Russia’s access to electronic supplies made with U.S. technology to cutting Moscow off from the SWIFT banking system, which handles the flow of money worldwide.

Energy? Russia is a major supplier of natural gas to Europe, raising significant questions about what would happen if a conflict led Moscow to cut off the supply. At the heart of the debate is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a major infrastructure project that, if completed, would transport natural gas from Siberia to Germany.

The United States views the pipeline as a geostrategic threat. At a news conference with the German chancellor this month, Biden said that “there will no longer be Nord Stream 2” if Russia invades Ukraine.

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Berlin would halt the regulatory approval process for the Nord Stream 2.

Robyn Dixon in Moscow, Rick Noack in Paris, Sammy Westfall in New York and Rachel Pannett in Sydney contributed to this report, which has been updated.