Russia-Ukraine conflict eyes more intensity as US-led NATO meeting focuses on supplying weapons rather than mediation
Published: Jan 18, 2023 10:27 PM Updated: Jan 18, 2023 11:30 PM
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov holds his annual press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2023. Photo: VCG

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov holds his annual press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2023. Photo: VCG

Top leaders of the US-led NATO are holding in-person meetings from Wednesday to Thursday after military chiefs from the US and Ukraine met in Poland ahead of the meeting. This comes as Russia appointed a new commander of the "special military operation" in Ukraine and declared a military victory in Soledar in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that the goals of Moscow's "special military operation" in Ukraine are "determined by Russia's core legitimate interests" and will be fulfilled, media reported. 

"There must be no military infrastructure in Ukraine that poses a direct threat to our country," Lavrov said, adding that Moscow also intends to make sure the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine were protected.

Speaking at an annual news conference on Wednesday, Lavrov dismissed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's demands for a complete Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. The minister also dismissed Ukraine's insistence on payments for war damages and the prosecution of war criminals as a platform for future talks, saying "there can be no talks with Zelensky."

Lavrov alleged "the West makes all the decisions for Ukraine" with the goal of using the conflict to exhaust Russia. NATO members have provided Ukraine with substantial military aid. He said Russia was ready to "seriously consider" any Western initiatives on ending the conflict but added, "We haven't seen any serious proposals yet."

Lavrov said that the US was attempting to "contain" both Russia and China with the help of other countries, but they were alert to its "games," Reuters reported. "The West is trying to sow discord in our relations...We and China see all these games," he said. Ties with Beijing had never been stronger, Lavrov said.

Experts said that the conflict will be more intense as Western countries focus on supplying weapons rather than mediation, while Russia is trying its best to end the conflict by 2023, whether in military or diplomatic way.

NATO's highest military authority, the Military Committee, will meet in person on Wednesday and Thursday, in Brussels, Belgium. Admiral Rob Bauer, Chair of the Military Committee, will preside over the meeting, which will be attended by the Allied Chiefs of Defense and their counterparts from invitees Finland and Sweden, according to NATO's website on Wednesday. The meeting will discuss NATO members' ongoing military support to Ukraine.

Ahead of the NATO meeting, the top US military officer, Army General Mark Milley, traveled to a site near the Ukraine-Poland border on Tuesday and talked to his Ukrainian counterpart face to face for the first time - a meeting underscoring the growing ties between the two militaries and coming at a critical time as Russia's war with Ukraine nears the one-year mark, the AP reported.

Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met for a couple of hours with Ukraine's chief military officer, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, at an undisclosed location in southeastern Poland. The two leaders have talked frequently about Ukraine's military needs and the state of the war over the past year but had never met.

The meeting comes as the international community ramps up military assistance to Ukraine, including expanded training of Ukrainian troops by the US and the provision of a Patriot missile battery, tanks and increased air defense and other weapons systems from the US and a coalition of European and other nations.

On the Russian side, Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov on January 11 was appointed commander of the integrated group of forces of the special military operation in Ukraine. 

Chinese military experts said this appointment means that Moscow wants to upgrade the "special military operation" to "a war" because it needs the top military commander of the country to coordinate the joint operation conducted by the Russian national armed forces, Chechnya's military forces and private military contractor the Wagner Group. 

Cui Heng, an assistant research fellow from the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "since December 2022, Ukraine has faced increasing difficulties in the battlefield, as its troops are suffering from increasing losses and European countries are increasingly reluctant to keep providing expensive military assistance."

Apart from the difficult situation on the battlefield, Ukraine is also suffering from the loss of a senior official and civilian casualties caused by a helicopter crash. 

At least 15 people, including Ukraine's interior minister, other senior ministry officials and three children were killed on Wednesday morning when a helicopter crashed near a nursery outside Kiev, Reuters reported.

At this moment, Kiev is facing a severe situation and it needs a military victory as soon as possible to reinforce its image among the West, especially when NATO is holding a meeting to discuss future military assistance, Cui noted. "For the Russian side, under the command of Gerasimov, the Russian troops' performance has improved in recent days, and their firepower has been strengthened," he said.

Russia wishes to end the military operation in 2023 because the presidential election in 2024 is highly important for the future of the country, so the Kremlin will strengthen inputs to the battlefield when its attempts to seek a cease-fire through diplomacy have been rebuffed by Ukraine and the West, experts said.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, said "since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, only one NATO member is really putting efforts into mediation - Turkey. The rest of NATO's members are all focusing on military supplies. There is no chance for a cease-fire when both sides are interested in diplomacy and both want to gain a military victory first."