High Stakes in Russia – the US/NATO talks, week 2 in 2022

It has been somewhat tragicomic to look at the headlines and news in Western media regarding Ukraine case during last two months. Key issues/speculations have been time and again

  • does Russia intervene/attack Ukraine or not and if yes, when this will happen
  • as well as how “horrible sanctions” West will put on Russia in order to punish such an outrageous act

Russia has denied all the time this kind of adventurous operations and underlined other, more fundamental and strategic issues.

Surprisingly, few analysts and other pundits have been interested in factual, strategic issues, background knowledge or the framework of post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe etc. Short-sighted scoops seem to be popular, a modern way of “name of the game”.

Initial setup

From Western viewpoint, the main reason to tense situation is Russia’s malign and aggressive behavior against its neighbouring regions: Donbass, Crimea, Ukraine, Georgia. NATO has accused Russia of frequent threatening military buildups, dangerous movements of large troop formations etc.

NATO’s eastward enlargement and Russia’s negative stance against it, have been studied in several sections on this website; here, here and here.

From Eastern viewpoint, this eastward approaching of NATO closing the borders of Russia, is one of the key factual reasons behind today’s escalating crisis, not some vague fantasy of Russia’s desire to attack Ukraine.

More threatening event, from Russia’s point of view, took place on November 8, 2021, when for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the 56th US Artillery Command was reactivated – a major United States Army unit based in the Mainz-Kastel district of the city of Wiesbaden, in Germany. Naturally, main stream media and Western “pundits” have turned blind eye on this case.

The US commander, Major General Stephen Maranian, stated on November 3, 2021: “The reactivation of the 56th Artillery Command will provide US forces in Europe and Africa with significant capabilities for multidomain operations… It will also enable synchronization of joint and multinational fires and effects, as well as the employment of future ground-to-ground long-range fires.”

The question is of “Dark Eagle hypersonic missile”, the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), which is a surface-to-surface hypersonic missile under development and planned (by Dynetics and Lockheed Martin) for use by the United States Army. The weapon consists of a large rocket booster that carries the unpowered Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) in a nose cone. Once the booster reaches significant altitude and speed, it releases the C-HGB, which glides at hypersonic speeds as it descends towards its target. The missile is planned to enter service with the US Army in 2023.

Besides coming Dark Eagle, Moscow has accused the US/NATO to buildup and deployment of other missile sites in Bulgaria, Romania and other places, where “defensive” missiles can be used/converted easily in “offensive” missiles.

Under continuous heavy critics by Moscow have been NATO’s Black Sea operations, biggest US Navy War Games of 2021 for 40 years and other large-scale US/NATO military drills in the vicinity of Russian borders.

Recent important events

Biden – Putin video summit, December 7, 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden have held urgent talks as Ukraine (and the West) fears a Russian invasion and Russia sees Ukraine’s preparedness to take Donbass region back to Kiev’s mastery by force. Other issues on the agenda have been a larger security assessment of Europe and some international topics like Iran case. The article of this summit is available here.

Putin – Xi video summit, December 15, 2021

Putin – Xi video summit, December 15, 2021, during which the two leaders reviewed bilateral relations and cooperation achievements over the year, drew up top-level design for the development of bilateral ties for next year and exchanged views on major international and regional issues of common concern. The article of this summit is available here.

Russia’s two sets of draft agreements, December 17, 2021

These proposals represent Russia’s factual requirements for renewed European security arrangements. Among the proposals was a demand for written guarantees that the military bloc would not expand closer to Russia’s borders and that Ukraine’s long-held membership aspirations would not be granted. In addition, Moscow is asking that NATO desist from military activity on Kiev’s territory, as well as elsewhere in the region.

The package of measures was quickly dismissed by the NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, who said that NATO “has never promised not to expand,” and argued that no third nation should have a veto over which countries are granted membership. However, last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed that the proposals should be discussed with the EU, with Washington committing to consultations with Brussels before responding. Brussels’ top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has urged the White House to “take into account the concerns and interests of all stakeholders” when it comes to any deals that impact European security arrangements.

Russia is doubtful that its demand to stop NATO’s eastward expansion will gain any traction and it is highly likely the US-led bloc will simply ignore Moscow’s security concerns, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Russia published proposals for security guarantees as a way to prevent Western nations from dismissing them or leaking them selectively. Experts in Moscow have noted that a contemporary American information tactic is to drop supposedly confidential negotiation points into the public sphere through “anonymous sources” feeding popular news outlets that are considered “on side.”  

Russia’s draft agreements (original English versions) are available here and here.

Putin – Biden phone talk, December 30, 2021

Thursday’s talks were a chance for both sides to put aside their differences and find a way to resolve growing tensions. Earlier in December, Moscow published two sets of draft agreements, one addressed to Washington and the other to NATO. The call, requested by Russia, was the pair’s second such conversation this month. The 50-minute phone call did not yield any major breakthroughs, US and Russian officials said afterward, but did establish the tenor for upcoming diplomatic talks between the two sides.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has warned his US counterpart Joe Biden that imposing new sanctions over Ukraine could lead to a complete breakdown in relations, calling them as a “colossal mistake”. Biden, meanwhile, told Putin that the US and its allies would respond decisively to any invasion of Ukraine. Russia, however, denies it is planning to invade the country and says the troops are there for exercises. It says it is entitled to move its troops freely on its own soil.

Although the two sides exchanged warnings during the call, Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters shortly after that Mr Putin was “pleased” with the conversation. He added that it had created a “good backdrop” for future talks. A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the tone had been “serious and substantive.” On the other hand, both presidents indicated support for further diplomacy on the tense standoff between Russia and Western-backed Ukraine.

Here are the key points of the discussion: 

  • Compromise over Ukraine is possible
  • The US sanctions and other threats, if Russia invades Ukraine
  • Russia’s response to potential US sanctions
  • Diplomatic negotiation format in January 2022
  • Putin’s end-goal of talks with US and NATO

Negotiation format in January 2022

The schedule of exchanges will be conducted in the following formats:

  • NATO top diplomats hold an extraordinary virtual meeting on January 7 to address Russia’s requirements relating to European security issues
  • a Russia-US meeting to be held on January 10 in Geneva,
  • followed by another meeting in Brussels between Russia and NATO on January 12, and
  • a final encounter on January 13 at the level of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)  

Diplomatic play takes new rounds, when Dmitry Kozak, Russian Presidential Administration Deputy Head, will hold talks with Normandy format German and French counterparts in Moscow on January 6, 2022. Kozak will hold talks with Foreign Policy Adviser to the German Chancellor Jens Plotner and Diplomatic Adviser to the French President Emmanuel Bonne. The meeting will be held at the invitation of the Russian side,” the Kremlin source said.

New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is hoping to turn a page in relations with Moscow and expects to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin by the end of January, according to a report from Bild newspaper.

What then?

President Putin has laid out the security guarantees Moscow has requested from the US and NATO. The Russian president has stressed that, while the mere fact of their negotiating is important, he expected concrete results from their meetings. Moscow’s ultimate goal is to obtain the necessary guarantees regarding its security. Russia’s most important request is to end NATO eastward expansion. The US will have to accept that in some formal way to prevent an escalation.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in an interview of Xinhua News Agency, emphasized Russian-Chinese cooperation: “We are convinced that as long as China and Russia, as two major countries, stand together shoulder to shoulder and deepen coordination hand in hand, the international order will not fall into disarray, justice in the world will not collapse, and hegemonism will not win.” He confirmed those points discussed two weeks before by presidents of both countries.

Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told that Russia is very serious on the matter, because NATO has pushed too far in past decades, which leaves Russia no space for further compromise. “The US-led NATO was born to be hostile toward Soviet Union and Russia, because it serves US hegemony and not regional peace. The organization does not care about Ukraine’s security at all, so while Russia remains powerful then NATO won’t stop its expansion. The more dangerous the situation is, the more interests the US can receive from the tension”, he said. “Creating tension could bring some Russian retaliation and NATO members will need US protection and then the US leadership based on security demands will be strengthened. This is how Washington plays the game but many small states do not understand or they have no choice but to be played and used by the US,” he noted.

Yang said the US will reject the Russia’s proposals eventually, and Russia will take action, but a massive military confrontation is unlikely. However, the military conflicts in Eastern Ukraine could be escalated to some extent, and Russia will increase military deployments alongside the border. “If NATO dares deploy anti-missile or other strategic weapons systems in Ukraine, Moscow would launch a surgical strike to destroy them. This is how Russia deals with provocation when red lines have been crossed,” he noted.

Fyodor Lukyanov, Valdai International Discussion Club Research Director, told “High-level impetus is needed ahead of the diplomatic negotiations. Since the United States did not reject Russia’s proposals on security guarantees right away, it means that Washington is willing to give a number of concessions. Clearly, there is an array of positions that are unacceptable and will not be accepted, but this is what talks are for, they are meant to discuss the entire range of things and figure out where the parties can agree,” the analyst went on to say.

Russia’s proposals on security guarantees are aimed at creating and legalizing a new system of agreements in the field of European security, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told. The Russian demands contain elements – such as an effective Russian veto on future NATO membership for Ukraine – that the West has already ruled out. Others would imply the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe and the withdrawal of multinational NATO battalions from Poland and from the Baltic states. Moscow will take measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate threats, if the United States and NATO do not respond to the proposals on security guarantees in an adequate time frame, Lavrov has stressed.

Russia will engage in “creating counter threats” (a military or military-technical scenario), if NATO turns down the Russian proposals for security guarantees, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko has said adding that “Then, it will be too late to ask us why we made these decisions and why we deployed these systems. The Europeans must think about the prospect of turning the continent into a field of military confrontation.”

Possibly, a new dimension to this escalation process has been added now in the case of Kazakhstan. It will be very interesting to see, in next few days/weeks, the real organizers of this turbulence.

Closing words

I like to close my article by citing some points of the article by Katrina vanden Heuvel, columnist in Washington Post, January 4, 2022. The link to her article here. She is commenting Ukraine crisis in her article.

The esteemed diplomat George Kennan correctly predicted in 1998 that Russia would “react quite adversely” if NATO expanded to the East. “I think it is a tragic mistake,” he said. “This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way.” Since then, NATO has added 11 member countries that were once either Soviet republics or a part of the Warsaw Pact. NATO expansion has, unsurprisingly, driven Russia and China closer together, a strategic debacle that no U.S. president should encourage.

Biden is already under fire from the hawks in both parties for even entering into negotiations. But despite all the bellicose blather, the real security interests of Americans are clear. Ukraine is not among them. Even if Ukraine were part of NATO, no U.S. president would go to war with Russia to defend it. Paradoxically, NATO now largely exists to manage the risks created by its existence.

I have nothing to add to her intelligent comments.