Europe is heading towards a crisis, if the United States’ assessment of the current geopolitical situation between Russia and Ukraine is correct. On Wednesday, the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) raised threat levels to a “potential imminent crisis,” as the low-intensity war between Russian and Ukrainian forces escalated in recent days.
Russians are deploying additional forces to the Donetsk region, which has seen low intensity warfare since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The New York Times reports that Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the head of EUCOM, declared a “potential imminent crisis,” which is the highest watch level.
The command raised the level after four Ukrainian troops were killed in conflict in the region. Threat levels were raised to the highest level after Russian troops deployed additional forces to the border region for an apparent set of drills, but failed to leave after the drills ended on March 23.
Speaking to the New York Times, a U.S. military official estimated that 4,000 additional Russian troops remain in the Ukraine border region.
Officials told the paper that the Russians often use a tactic of deploying troops en masse during so-called drills but then stationing them there for an indefinite period of time. The purpose of the drills is to send a message to the Ukrainian government and neighbouring western countries. Both current and former officials said that the latest deployment may be a way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to gauge how the Biden administration intends to react to the situation.
“This could be posturing, but the Kremlin is testing the new administration,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Frederick B. Hodges, who formerly led the forces in Europe.
Hodges told the paper that it is not within Russia’s interest to arrive at a peaceful outcome with its neighbour. Instead, Russia intends to keep Ukraine destabilized, as it has been since 2014.
The Biden administration has not enjoyed the greatest relations with its Russian counterparts. Russia recalled its ambassador to the U.S. after President Biden recently suggested that Putin was a “killer.” Putin later challenged Biden to a livestreamed debate, which Biden refused.