At the end of January, Russia received a written decline from the US and NATO for “security guarantees” requested by Russia. But the West left room for talks on more technical issues, such as the transparency of military maneuvers and training.
In recent days, talks with Russia have been ongoing in different formats, and Berlin and Paris are also seeking to negotiate and de-escalate the situation, with their rhetoric less strict than that of the US and NATO.
After meeting with the French leader Emmanuel Macron, the Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that, if Ukraine joined the NATO and attempted to take back the annexed Crimea, Europe could get involved in a major conflict. "Do you want France to fight with Russia?" the Russian president asked at a press conference on February 7. "That's what will happen. And there will be no winners."
“From the leader of such a large country as Russia, this is a very worrying signal,” retired Latvian National Armed Forces colonel Igors Rajevs told LTV. He believes Macron's visit marks a different vision in the West in reducing tension, but it should be noted that Macron's activities are also determined by the April elections in France.
“He can't come back and say, yeah, we talked, I didn't get anything, everything's bad. With that result, no one will elect you. It is necessary to show positive messages [..] that he is nevertheless an influential player and that he is able to change the situation,” Rajevs said of Macron's visit, adding that Macron cannot resolve this situation.
Professor Žaneta Ozoliņa of the University of Latvia also agreed that the election is one of the reasons for Macron's action, but he has also raised the issue of the security of the European Union in the past, as well as France, which is currently the presidency of the bloc, has traditionally been friendly in foreign policy towards Russia.
"In the case of Latvia, we should not be worried about what Macron and Putin are talking about, because it will be their bilateral business. Latvia should be worried if Macron's ideas were to become EU ideas, but it looks like this could not happen because of strong enough opposition in Central and Eastern Europe, and one-on-one action of Macron will not be accepted from the other Member States," said Ozoliņa.
Following Moscow's visit to Kyiv, Macron announced that Putin had personally promised him not to escalate the tension further. But the Kremlin immediately denied it. The situation became even more unsettling in the second half of the week, when Washington, referring to intelligence information, said the Russian offensive could begin in the coming days.
Russia, in parallel with diplomatic talks, has not stopped deploying military forces around Ukraine.
"It is the National Guard [massing at the border of Ukraine], which has more police functions and is very well prepared for this task. As the emergence of this unit at the border of Ukraine shows that the occupation plan of some Ukrainian territories has certainly been prepared in the Kremlin for a long time,” said former NBS colonel Rajevs.
However, the moment of surprise has long disappeared and there is no massive information campaign on Russia's part to justify the invasion, so analysts concede that for Russia, the maintenance of tension could be more important than a minor solution to any of the issues.
“In fact, Putin's most beneficial situation is to maintain the tension and maintain the potential threat of invasion as long as possible and as realistic as possible, at the same time, playing diplomatic games and trying to get themselves some benefits and security guarantees. Because the moment he invades, everything will be over,” said Rajevs.
Western countries have promised serious sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine. The United States and the European Union have already been calculating that will likely be bolder in the case of the US. To a large extent, European countries' dependence on Russian gas is a factor that makes the rhetoric more ambiguous.
Professor Ozoliņa believes that this is one of the very rare occasions that Western leaders are saying the same thing but the ways to say it vary. "Internationally, Putin has achieved very great unity among the Western leaders and, as we see from the studies, also the unity of society. Putin has no more supporters, no more admirers," said Ozoliņa.
German Chancellor Scholz's visit to Moscow is scheduled for Tuesday, the day before he visits Kyiv. Tensions have grown even more before the visit, with several countries including Latvia calling on their diplomats and residents to leave Ukraine.