211208 Putin Biden
Russian President Vladimir Putin is shown during his talks with U.S. President Joe Biden via videoconference in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. Image Credit: AP

With the coronavirus pandemic still in full swing with a new variant, Omicron, the last thing the world needs is a large scale political tension that may very well lead to a military confrontation, such as the one building currently between Washington, supported by its Western allies, and Moscow over the alleged Russian military build-up on the Ukraine border.

The West has warned Russia of “massive consequences and severe cost” for “any incursion” into neighbouring Ukraine as alleged by the United States and the G7 group who met in Liverpool on Sunday.

US President Joe Biden has already issued a stark warning, saying that President Vladimir Putin will “pay a terrible price” following an online meeting between the two leaders. The G7 foreign ministers said “the world’s largest economies are united” against any move by Russia. American intelligence officials claim that Russia’s military “could be prepared to invade Ukraine as soon as January or February” with “as many as 175,000 troops”.

But Russia affirms that it has no intention of any hostile move against its neighbour. The Western reports about Russian troops build-up on Ukraine’s border were aimed at escalating the tension “further demonising Russia”, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Russian Presidential Spokesman, said. He said Moscow was all for talks with America and the West to resolve the issue.

A good suggestion

And the talks are most probably taking place right now. A senior US State Department is holding talks this week in Kyiv and Moscow in an attempt to ease the tension and “reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” according to US officials.

There are legitimate concerns on both sides of the divide. While the US and allies are wary of Russia expanding its influence sphere westward, Moscow has serious fears about Nato’s pledge to accept Ukraine and Georgia’s membership, which means deploying Nato troops and arms on the border with Russia, according to Moscow. The West has so far refused to assure Russia, while the latter seems intent on keeping the Nato alliance on edge.

With the world struggling to recover from Covid-19, a crisis of this scale will certainly deal the global economy a fatal blow. The crisis will most importantly hinder any effort to put the virus and its fast emerging variants at check, including access to vaccines in many parts of the world.

The Biden administration had said early on that it was taking on the US ‘adversaries’ — China and Russia, thus it was pulling from other parts of the world, like Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. The US is already in the midst of a trade cold war with China. A hot war with Russia seems inevitable but unquestionably avoidable, unless Washington has other motives. President Biden’s approval rate is at its lowest point, so is Boris Johnson’s in the UK.

The tension is escalating quickly to a frightening point. Cool heads must prevail. Let us hope so.