Russia: BTR-80 convoy seen in Astrakhan with white markings
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Russia stoked further fears of conflict with Ukraine after pictures emerged of military vehicles painted with “invasion stripes”. This is as President Putin deployed more than 100,000 troops in close proximity of the border. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba claimed that Russia is planning to move nuclear weapons to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
World leaders have condemned Russia’s growing presence in the region, including US President Joe Biden who yesterday spoke with Mr Putin and suggested they meet for discussions in a third country.
Political figureheads elsewhere have also spoken against Russia’s belligerence, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Mrs Merkel has historically been weary of being the first to commit to a tough stance on Russia.
In past events she appeared to wait for the US to move.
While Mrs Merkel urged Mr Putin to withdraw troops from Ukraine’s border last week, she and Germany have vested interests in Russia with the ambitious Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
The pipeline will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany and the European Union, something which the US has recoiled at but left untouched in its recent sprawling sanctions against Moscow.
Things could become worse if newly elected CDU leader Armin Laschet wins Germany’s Chancellorship elections this September.
Described as the “continuity candidate”, Mr Laschet has for the most part supported Mrs Merkel’s politics.
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Under his leadership relations with Russia might take an unexpected turn as archive reports show Mr Laschet to be in favour of close ties with Mr Putin.
In Germany he is known as a Russlandversteher, a derogatory term for people who take a soft and sympathetic stance on Mr Putin and Russia, according to Politico.
In 2019, looking back at the policy of détente in the Seventies during the Cold War – the period which marked an easing of tensions between Western powers and the Soviet Union – Mr Laschet said: “Back then, in a tense situation with a totalitarian communist system, threads of conversation were established.
“Then it must be possible for us today too.
“We need Russia for many questions in the world.”
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He continued: “There are many conflicts where we have to move forward without giving up our position under international law, for example on Crimea.
“You can speak plainly and still cooperate in other fields and keep talking.”
Like Mrs Merkel, Mr Laschet is a fierce supporter and defender of Nord Stream 2, which will extend Russia’s influence in the country while propping up Germany’s economy.
In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Mr Laschet criticised “anti-Putin populism”.
He also publicly questioned the evidence that the Kremlin was behind the chemical weapons attack in Salisbury, describing NATO countries who backed the UK as having been “forced to show solidarity”.
Many are therefore concerned over the EU’s relations with Russia in the future as Mr Laschet would take Mrs Merkel’s place in spearheading the bloc as leader of its most powerful country.
Meanwhile, along the Russia-Ukraine border, the latter country remains seriously outmuscled in terms of military power.
Russia has not yet explained why it has built up such a number of military personnel in the region.
Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, said moving troops across Russian territory was an “internal affair”.
However, he accused Ukraine of staging “provocations”.
Russia has indicated that if a larger war does take place separate to the skirmishes already seen, it is prepared to deliver a hammer blow to its neighbour.
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