European Security Talks, post festum

Initial setup, week 2, 2022

During last few months, Western media has gourmandized weeks after weeks with a narrative “Russia is going to invade Ukraine before the snow melts, the threat is imminent”. Russia has officially denied it, time and again.

There are two real factors behind any potential threat concept: capability and intention. There is little doubt that Russia has at its disposal the military force required to invade Ukraine. The question is, whether it intends to do so. Underpinning the widespread belief, that it does, is an assumption that Russia is a malign actor, intent on doing bad things for the sake of doing bad things.

The framework of the European Security Talks has been studied in the particular article on this website. US Secretary of State James Baker stated to Russian leadership a legendary promise “not one inch eastward”, in the early 1990s. The whole dispute and antagonism of today is stemming from those promises made by the US to Russia 30 years ago.

Russia – US talks in Geneva (Monday, January 10) will be followed by meetings later in the week of Russia-NATO Council at alliance headquarters in Brussels (Wednesday, January 12) and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna (Thursday, January 13).

Russian position

Russia is represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in the coming talks. Ahead of the talks, he stressed that Moscow’s main goal in Geneva is to discuss the non-expansion of NATO and the non-deployment of offensive weapons near Russia’s borders.

Russia’s permanent representative to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said that Moscow’s proposals on security guarantees are addressed to NATO, because the EU is not a military bloc. Mr. Chizhov stressed that Russia is “not against the EU’s supportive role” in NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but that Moscow “doesn’t plan to make the EU become a military bloc on the basis of Russia’s security guarantee proposals”.

Russia’s draft agreements on security guarantees, which were released earlier in December, stipulate legally binding commitments by Moscow and Washington not to deploy weapons and forces in areas, where they may be a threat to each other’s national security. In line with the agreements, Moscow also demanded that NATO stop its eastward expansion towards Russia’s borders and avoid inviting post-Soviet countries (Ukraine, Georgia) into the alliance or creating military bases on their territory as well as the pullout of US nuclear weapons from Europe.

Russia has ruled out any concession at talks with the United States and seeks a wide-ranging new security arrangement with the West. Ryabkov told ahead of his talks in Geneva the Kremlin was “disappointed” with signals coming from Washington and from Brussels. Russia’s stance is clear: if the talks fail, Russia is ready to take care of its security issues by herself, using military or military-technical means, as FM Lavrov has stated.

US position

The United States is represented by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in the coming talks. Originally scheduled to start on Monday, Sherman is due to have a working dinner with Ryabkov on Sunday evening. Sherman said that “the US will listen to Russia’s concerns and share our own but we have been clear we will not discuss European security without our allies and partners,” she said.

The US narrative is that a crisis is imminent in Ukraine as Russia gathers troops on the Russia-Ukraine border for a possible invasion. The Biden administration is threatening unprecedented harsh sanctions and other tough steps, if Russia takes military action against Ukraine.

The Biden administration is heading into talks with Russia unsure how serious Moscow is about negotiations but if so, US officials are ready to propose discussions on scaling back reciprocally US and Russian troop deployments and military exercises in Eastern Europe, advance notice about the movement of forces and Russia’s nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in the Russian territory of Kaliningrad and also exploring ways to defuse tensions with Russia. 

American policy makers have also focusing on a potential conflict in Taiwan, one that is coming to a boil more slowly. Some American politicians understand that these events (Ukraine, Taiwan) cannot be viewed in isolation; they are connected and part of a larger political competition for Eurasia. This double issue has been studied here on this website.

NATO position

A videoconference of NATO foreign affairs ministers was held on Friday, January 7, ahead of a week of diplomatic talks in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna that were set off by a major Russian military mobilization on the Ukrainian border. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Western powers were preparing for the possibility that high-stakes talks with Russia could break down and that the alliance was reinforcing military capabilities along its eastern flank as well as readying harsh economic sanctions should Moscow attack Ukraine.

“We stand by our decisions at the Bucharest summit when it comes to Ukraine and Georgia,” Stoltenberg said. “We support and help them on their way towards further Euro-Atlantic integration” he added. US Antony Blinken and NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg said, after the video meeting, that Russia would have no say over who should be allowed to join the bloc and they warned Russia of a “forceful” response to any further military intervention in Ukraine. They rejected Russian demands that the alliance not admit new members. Their comments amounted to a complete dismissal of a key part of Russian President Putin’s demands for easing tensions with Ukraine.

EU position

The EU wants a role in the upcoming talks on security guarantees between Russia, the US and NATO expressing to be angry about not participating in the Talks. The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrel asserted on Tuesday that Brussels “cannot be a neutral spectator in the negotiations” over Europe’s security architecture in the years to come.

European Union officials and national leaders from across the continent have called for huge economic penalties against Moscow for any new military incursion into Ukraine, in lockstep with their American partners. Senior European officials have expressed reservations about the bilateral talks between Russia and the US and have said that Brussels would insist on a role in any discussions that have direct implications for security in Europe.

France officially took up the six-month, rotating European Union Presidency at the start of January. President Macron said “it’s a good thing that there are discussions between the United States and Russia,” and added that “coordination between the Europeans and Americans is exemplary on the matter.” But he called for the European Union to hold its own talks with Moscow.

The message was reiterated on Friday in Paris, where President Macron met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “The European security architecture is first and foremost a question for Europeans and it is therefore up to us to propose the European security architecture that we want,” Macron said. “It is up to us to build it as Europeans, then to share it with our allies within NATO and to share it with our neighbors.” Ursula von der Leyen said that “one thing is clear: no solution without Europe. Whatever the solution, Europe has to be involved.”

Russia – US Talks in Geneva (Monday, January 10)

US Wendy Sherman and Russian Sergey Ryabkov attended the security talks in Geneva and the encounter lasted for more than seven hours. Its main focus was a proposal Moscow sent to the US last month and made public on December 17, insisting on curbing NATO’s further expansion and deployment of offensive weapons on Russian borders.

Security talks between the US and Russia concluded Monday evening without yielding any diplomatic breakthrough. The US and Russia are no closer to resolving their strategic impasse after talks, with Washington refusing any limitations on NATO expansion and Moscow insisting the bloc must “never” include Ukraine and Georgia. Both sides consider question of NATO expansion non-negotiable, but from opposite perspectives

The talks were difficult, very professional, long, deep and concrete, without attempts to gloss over some sharp edges,” said Sergei Ryabkov after the talks. He added that “the main questions are still up in the air and we don’t see an understanding from the American side in a way that satisfies us.” He said that “We need ironclad, waterproof, legally binding guarantees – not assurances, not safeguards. He told also that Russia has no plans to attack Ukraine.

“For us, it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never ever becomes a member of NATO,” Ryabkov told reporters. The same goes for the former Soviet republic of Georgia, he added. Moscow’s non-negotiable demand is that NATO change its 2008 platform that opened the door for membership to the two countries, the diplomat added.

Ryabkov told reporters that he patiently explained to his colleague that there are no plans to “invade” Ukraine and never have been. Russia is training its troops on its own sovereign territory and there is no basis for describing that as an “escalation,” he outlined. The Americans have failed to understand the gravity of the situation or the key issues that need to be resolved, Ryabkov said. Without legally binding assurances on NATO, nothing else matters, he explained.

Wendy Sherman told reporters that the US came to Monday’s meeting to hear Russia’s security concerns and to share its own, “We came with a number of ideas where our two countries could take reciprocal actions that would be in our security interests and improve strategic stability. She also said that the US offered to meet again soon with Russian officials to discuss these bilateral issues in more detail.

She said that the US will not stop NATO’s “Open Door” policy, it will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States and it will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe or about NATO without NATO. The US is open to discussing the placement of its missiles in Europe and the size and scope of NATO military exercises on the continent but any limit on NATO’s enlargement is a “non-starter,” Sherman told reporters in a separate press conference.

Instead, she focused on Ukraine, which the US has claimed is under threat of a Russian “invasion.” Sherman said Russia must withdraw troops allegedly amassed on Ukraine’s border in a “de-escalation” move and listed financial and other sanctions the US is prepared to levy on Moscow if an invasion occurs. “We’ve made it clear that if Russia further invades Ukraine, there will be significant costs and consequences.

Russia – NATO Council Talks in Brussels (Wednesday, January 12)

The first meeting since 2019 between high-level delegations from NATO and Russia on security guarantees in Europe in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council will take place at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, 12 January to exchange concerns over security issues in Europe. The council is chaired by Jens Stoltenberg, the US delegation is led by Wendy Sherman and the Russian delegation is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin. The meeting lasted four hours.

After meeting, Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that the two sides had a “frank and open discussion on a wide range of issues, of course focusing on tensions in and around Ukraine.” He made it clear that the organization was not ready to compromise on what it deems to be its fundamental principles in order to meet Russia’s demands.

NATO allies rejected Russia’s demand for a new security settlement in Europe, challenging President Putin to withdraw troops deployed near Ukraine and join talks on reducing the threat of open conflict. The NATO members said Moscow would have no veto on Ukraine or any other country joining the alliance, warning Russia would pay a high price if it invaded Ukraine.

After the meeting, the senior US diplomat said: “Together, the United States and our NATO allies made clear we will not slam the door shut on NATO’s open-door policy. It is countries’ sovereign choice to choose to come to NATO and say they want to join.”

The meeting was open and direct but there were many disagreements and the Western alliance has demonstrated that there is no room for a common positive agenda, Russian Alexander Grushko has said. “NATO’s constant expansion toward Russia worsens our security and creates unacceptable risks for our security which we will confront,” Grushko added. Moscow, he said, will have “no choice but to implement a policy of counter-containment and counter-intimidation, if we fail to reverse the current, very dangerous course of events.” Overall, Grushko characterized Wednesday’s meeting “quite frank, direct, deep but revealing of a large number of differences on fundamental issues.”

Russia – OSCE Talks in Vienna (Thursday, January 13)

The last round of the talks took place at The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna. Moscow was disappointed with the reaction that the West has shown to Russia’s proposals for security guarantees in Europe, Russia’s Ambassador to the OSCE, Alexander Lukashevich said following the OSCE meeting.

As a week of high-profile talks between Russia and the West ended in failure to resolve soaring tensions over Ukraine and NATO expansion, that stalemate had always been the probable outcome.

The new head of OSCE, a Polish Zbigniew Rau, said that the risk of war in Europe is “now greater than ever before in the last 30 years”. He also stated there has been no breakthrough in the Vienna talks but there is a readiness for dialogue by all major stakeholders at the permanent council of the OSCE.

After the talks, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who headed the Russian delegation in talks with the United States in Geneva on Monday, said that the main questions were “still up in the air and we don’t see an understanding from the American side of the necessity of a decision in a way that satisfies us.” He also noted “We do not trust the other side, we need ironclad, legally binding guarantees — not assurances, not safeguards.”

Despite its obvious differences with the Western partners, Russia is ready to continue with the talks. He called on NATO to draft its own vision for Europe’s security architecture, just as Russia did last December, in order that there could be further discussion.

Russian foreign policy expert Fyodor Lukyanov, told that the differences are “apparently irreconcilable” and that a “new and rather dangerous escalation would be needed or could occur,” in order “to force” the parties to new forms of agreement. However, Lukyanov noted that it is still unclear what exactly will happen.

Overall assessment

Some expert has described that for Moscow, talks with the US on NATO and Ukraine are like divorce proceedings at the end of a long, increasingly bitter marriage. No one should have expected any concrete results from Geneva summit between Russia and the United States. The point is that they are talking but are they speaking the same language? The door is still open but it is still unclear, if anything will come through it.

New sanctions would be introduced despite the potential damaging impact for the US and its Western allies in the event of a military conflict with Ukraine, several officials from President Joe Biden’s administration have told. The US administration has reportedly admitted that any new round of anti-Russian sanctions would inflict serious damage on both the global and the US economy but that it doesn’t see it as a sound reason to give up on the move. The negative effects could reportedly boomerang back onto the US during what would be an election year. The unnamed officials also expressed concern over potential cyberattacks against US and European critical infrastructure.

A diplomatic marathon of the week 2 that saw Russia hold talks with the US and NATO on European security guarantees, ended seemingly without concrete results but on the other hand with the bloc offering to address a range of issues it had previously refused to even discuss with Moscow. The areas now apparently open for negotiation include:

  • reciprocal limitations on deploying missile systems,
  • a reduction in the scale of military exercises, and
  • the reopening of military communication channels
  • Putin’s initiative to freeze the deployment in Europe of short- and intermediate-range missiles banned by the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
  • the US and other NATO nations declared they were ready to talk with Russia about de-escalation measures
  • improving mechanisms to prevent dangerous military incidents, and reopening military communication channels

The steps presented by the Western diplomats overlap to a large extent with what Moscow has been pushing for since 2014, when NATO suspended almost all practical cooperation with Russia. At the NATO-Russia Council meeting, the Russian delegation was invited to reestablish its office at the NATO HQ in Brussels on the condition that the NATO liaison office would reopen in Moscow.

It is unclear yet, however, whether Russia will be ready to resume substantial talks with the West, as the US and NATO have refused point-blank to discuss the two issues that are of crucial importance to Moscow:

  • Russia wants the bloc to stop expanding to the east and to withdraw troops and remove infrastructure from the countries that joined the alliance post 1997.
  • the same goes for the question of Ukraine’s (and Georgia’s) hopes to join NATO, which Moscow vehemently opposes

As Stoltenberg said, “Allies totally agree that it is only Ukraine and 30 allies that can decide when Ukraine is ready to become a NATO member. No one else has anything to say and, of course, Russia doesn’t have a veto on whether Ukraine can become a NATO member.”  Russia did not find this acceptable and stated that any attempts to build a security system against Russia without Russia’s involvement will never work.

Russia’s Alexander Grushko told reporters that Russia and NATO failed to find common ground. He summed up that all practical cooperation between Russia and the alliance in areas of common interest have been suspended. The prospect of building common European security is no longer in the picture. Russia has “no choice but to implement a policy of counter-containment and counter-intimidation.” Grushko went on to say that Russia would take all necessary measures to fend off the threat by military means if it does not work out with political means. He did not explain, what military means these might be exactly.

At a Moscow press conference on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled displeasure with the way the talks had ended and suggested that the on-and-off negotiations begun in Geneva in the summer had ended. “We’re very patient, but our patience has run out,” he said. Russia will begin a policy of unilateral actions aimed at advancing vital Russian national interests.  Lavrov, who previously said he expected Western answers to Moscow’s demands early this week, said “we’ll determine our reaction depending on what concrete steps our partners take.” Moscow needs “concrete article-by-article” responses “as soon as possible.”