• Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops to the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, raising fears of an invasion.

  • The head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken was in Ukraine on Wednesday to ask Vladimir Putin to choose the peaceful way to resolve this conflict.

  • If it is not in Russian interests to attack Ukraine, the armed conflict cannot be ruled out and could be triggered by an incident at the borders, according to experts interviewed by

    20 Minutes


Has the escalation of tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine reached the final echelon before tipping into armed conflict? In any case, this is what the American government fears after Belarus announced on Tuesday the arrival of Russian troops on its territory for “combat preparation” exercises. "We are at a stage where Russia can launch an attack in Ukraine at any time," said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. In the process, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an emergency meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday.

It must be said that this is not Moscow's first military maneuver.

"At the beginning of December, Russia organized on its territory near the Ukrainian border a major military exercise which mobilized 100,000 men", recalls Cyrille Bret, researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute and professor at Sciences Po Paris.

The Russian government had not informed its Western partners, contrary to custom.

Finally, at the beginning of January, a Russian military intervention took place in Kazakhstan via the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a sort of small NATO comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia.

Russia ups the ante

Yet no one seems to have an interest in a conflict breaking out. “The Americans are already busy countering Chinese influence and do not want a secondary conflict in Europe,” explains Jean de Gliniasty, research director at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris). “On the Russian side, the general opinion does not want a war”, continues the man who was ambassador to Moscow ten years ago. And in the event that the Russian government wants to settle the matter by force, it knows that it will not be easy. “Nationalist sentiment is very strong in Ukraine today and the armaments are much better than at the time of the Donbass war six years ago. If Russia attacks, the army knows that it will not be a walk in the park”, assures the expert.

The Westerners, like the Russians, would therefore rather be in a balance of power. In mid-December, the Russian government submitted a draft treaty on security in Europe, known as “take it or leave it”. The latter was discussed for the first time in Geneva last week and a further meeting is scheduled for next week. “We know that on the eve of a negotiation process, the bidding goes up on both sides to put the adversary under pressure. It's always happened like that, ”decrypts Jean de Gliniasty, also author of the

Short history of Franco-Russian relations


According to Cyrille Bret, the Russians are “testing the determination of Americans and Europeans to support Ukraine”.

If Antony Blinken's visit to Ukraine is intended to reassure the country, it is also a way of "showing Russia that the United States will not let go of Ukraine and that Vladimir Putin must not go any further in the gradation of military operations”, analyzes the professor at Sciences Po. During this trip, the head of American diplomacy also asked Vladimir Putin to choose the “peaceful way” to get out of the Ukrainian crisis.

An overflow at the borders could change everything

The concern is that for two months already there has been constant military activity by the Russians and their allies near the Ukrainian borders. And that even if no government wants an armed conflict, this scenario could be triggered by poor control of the troops on the ground. “When you accumulate troops and have military exercises for such a long time, it means that you increase the risk of incidents. The soldiers are tired and make mistakes,” explains Cyrille Bret. An unintended or autonomous firing by a unit commander would force the opposing party to retaliate. "It can quickly degenerate and, there, we don't know where it stops", worries the researcher at the Jacques-Delors Institute.

This “incident at the border” scenario is far from being ruled out by experts.

Firstly because the negotiations on the famous treaty establishing a new security status in Europe will take time and will be difficult.

Indeed, Russia and the West are still at an impasse over Ukraine's inclusion in NATO: NATO considers its open-door policy a matter of principle, while Russia categorically refuses this scenario.

Our file on Ukraine

Then because Ukraine has along the Donbass "extreme right-wing nationalist forces, some of whose military units can trigger specific operations that can degenerate", explains Jean de Gliniasty.

On the Russian side, "a small part of the nationalist right considers that Russia's security can only be obtained at the cost of conquering Ukraine", adds the expert.

Minorities whose armed actions could lead to chain reactions.


Conflict in Ukraine: Why are the United States and Russia fighting over Kiev?


Ukraine: Americans and Russians start crucial talks on Monday

  • Tensions

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  • United States

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  • Vladimir Poutine

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