The threat of war appears to the Americans and their NATO allies in new Russian proposals to strengthen peace and security in Europe. Presumably, primarily because of such fears, these proposals were not rejected outright in the West. It is unlikely that they want to test the power of Avangards, Zircons and other newest Russian weapons on themselves.
In addition, the Americans have to remember about China, friendly to Russia. “Hawks” among lawmakers and retired military personnel in the United States are now making a noise that if they do not give a decisive rebuff to Moscow, this could dangerously provoke Beijing. But the metropolitan The Washington Post published a commentary on this topic, entitled “Excessive aggressiveness towards Ukraine could endanger both it and Taiwan.” Calling to “res-pect long-standing Russian red lines in Ukraine, just as the United States respected Chinese red lines in Taiwan,” the authors pointed out that otherwise America risks running into “a true strategic nightmare: two crises and possibly two wars against two great powers. straightaway”.
However, to reduce everything entirely to fear is probably still wrong. There are sane people everywhere; they cannot fail to understand that the so-called “rule-based order” dictated by Washington alone is deliberately unjust and therefore shaky. That the new polycentric world emerging after the end of the Cold War really needs a new security regime – as clear and stable as possible, taking into account the interests of all key players, based on the norms of international law.
Of course, it is not a fact that new Russian initiatives are guaranteed to create such a regime. But they at least give hope that the world can move in this direction without a “big war” traditionally considered the main way to zero geopolitical stakes. In this sense, they can be seen as a tool for enforcing NATO peace.
Caught at my word
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly pointed out that our proposals are, in fact, a reaction to the words of the head of the Washington administration, Joe Biden, that our countries should enter into negotiations on strategic stability at the level of special representatives of both leaders. In development of this idea, drafts of two profile documents were published in Moscow – the treaty with the United States and the agreement with NATO.
Contrary to the expectations of the skeptics, including myself at first, it was recognized overseas, albeit with numerous reservations, that there is something to discuss in these documents. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, at a meeting with journalists at the end of the year, said that this work could involve different formats: from the existing bilateral dialogue on strategic stability to the NATO-Russia Council (RNC) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that the OSCE platform is acceptable for our side, and stated that, in general, “three tracks are emerging,” on the use of which “there is agreement, at least between Moscow and Washington.”
Of course, in the complete absence of mutual trust in organizing contacts, the slightest nuances are important. Russia initially named Geneva as a possible meeting place, where our delegation, headed by Lavrov’s profile deputy at the Foreign Ministry, Sergei Ryabkov, is ready to move forward literally at any moment. In any case, the reference point for us is the first days of the new year. Switzerland immediately confirmed that it would be glad to render “good offices” to Russia and the United States as a host.
Overseas, however, these plans have not yet been directly confirmed, although not rejected. Blinken said that the dialogue should begin “relatively early in the new year.” But Moscow was immediately warned that it did not intend to put up with any attempts to “chat up” and slow down the process of entering into a dialogue or furnish it with preconditions. And the US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan assured that the US has no such intention.
What will the military say?
On the whole, of course, all this looks from the outside as a classic information and propaganda “artillery preparation” before the start of important negotiations. It’s nice that almost for the first time in my memory ours have seized the initiative in it and are acting offensively. The Americans are fighting back and catching up.
It all started with the virtual summit of presidents on December 7, but it continues to this day. Thus, a whole counter “volley” of public statements by American officials was timed to coincide with Putin’s big press conference: briefings were held in Washington, and the US ambassador gave an interview to one of the Russian publications in Moscow.
In part, by the way, the tactic worked: the same interview was replicated quite widely in our country. I don’t remember that the American media were so eager to pick up the statements of Russian diplomats in the United States. But at least at the press conference itself, the Americans remained without questions this time; as a result, their role had to be played by those who “serve” them.
Strategically, the initiative remains on our side. On Sunday, the focus was on Putin’s words that if Russian proposals are rejected, Moscow’s response “may be very different” and will depend “on the proposals that… our military experts will make.”
Comments on both sides of the Atlantic initially suggested that Russian drafts of new agreements could have been deliberately drafted in a manner unacceptable to the West, so that their rejection could serve as a pretext for war. Perhaps that is why no one overseas even started talking about refusing to negotiate. But at the same time, the same Blinken pointed out that “among the things Russia put on the table there are quite obviously non-passable things” (very obvious nonstarters). In general, the official responses of the United States and its allies have always sounded and still sounds militant rhetoric: accusations of Russia of hatching aggressive designs, threats of some “unprecedented” new sanctions, assurances of its unwillingness to compromise the “fundamental” principles, interests and values of the Western alliance.
Moscow, for its part, rejects suspicions of aggressive intentions and emphasizes that it cares exclusively about the reliable provision of its own security. Ryabkov told me that our new proposals are “not an ultimatum, [but] an invitation to a serious conversation,” dictated primarily by “the need to call a spade a spade.” At the same time, he admitted that he did not recall precedents for such a direct formulation of painful questions; in his opinion, this is “a new word in international relations.”
Overseas, however, innovation is often critically assessed. “I have negotiated with Russian officials on several major agreements, including a new START Treaty (Treaty on Measures to Further Reduce and Limit Strategic Offensive Arms – TASS) and an agreement on Russia’s accession to the WTO (World Trade Organization – TASS), – wrote to me the former adviser to President Barack Obama on Russia and the ambassador in Moscow Michael McFaul. – And during these negotiations, none of the parties published their draft agreements in advance.”
“This is a highly dubious decision by the Russian government,” added a retired diplomat now at Stanford University in California.
On the other hand, Anton Fedyashin, a historian and political scientist at the American University in Washington, sees nothing unusual in Moscow’s approach. “The Russian proposals are not an ultimatum, but a manifestation of standard diplomatic practice: a maximalist position before the start of negotiations,” he wrote. And he called “a step in the right direction” the fact that “for the first time the West made a public acknowledgment that Russia has security interests that both its neighbors and the United States need to take into account.”
Ian Bremmer, founder and CEO of the reputable New York-based forecast and analytical company Eurasia Group, is in a similar mood. “It is not so much surprising as it is pleasant to see that, as President Putin said, this proposal represents the beginning of negotiations, and not unilateral demands from the Russian side,” he said. “Because both sides need to avoid ultimatums for the negotiations to be useful.”
What surprised you?
When I asked my acquaintances for comments, I asked them what surprised them about the Russian initiative and the Western reaction to it. Former adviser to President George W. Bush on Russia, Tom Graham, he said, “was surprised that the new Russian proposal is, in fact, aimed at returning to the situation in Europe that existed at the time of the signing of the treaty in 1997 NATO and Russia”. “In fact, nothing surprised me in NATO’s response,” he stated. The Alliance, by the way, has just announced that it would like to hold an NRC meeting on January 12.
“What surprises Russia’s proposed agreements is how unbalanced they are and contain provisions that the Russian Foreign Ministry should know are deliberately completely unacceptable to the West,” wrote Steven Pifer, an arms control expert at Stanford, who worked in 1998-2000. years as the US Ambassador to Kiev. ”“ They [documents] do not look like a serious requesting position for negotiations. And the response of the United States and NATO is about the same as I expected: readiness for dialogue, although they would put a different set of questions on the table and not will be ready to negotiate while the threat of a Russian military attack looms over Ukraine.”
Even if we do not dispute the references to the threat, the thesis about who is ready for negotiations and under what conditions, as I understand it, should be tested in practice in the near future. And the mood in Moscow is still quite skeptical. As far as I know, the parties have decided on their special envoys and exchanged views on the timing of entering the dialogue, but there is still no answer on the content of our proposals – with the exception of public rhetoric. Until it becomes clear what exactly in them seems “impassable” to Washington, even the general meaning of the American approach remains questionable.
Be that as it may, Olga Oliker of the International Crisis Group in Brussels sees in Moscow’s new initiatives “a catalog (compendium) of a great many long-standing wishes of Russia.” “However, when put together, they actually highlighted the gap between what Russia wants and what NATO is ready and even able to offer – and what NATO countries want,” said an analyst who previously headed the Russian study programs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies; and the California-based RAND Corporation.
“For all that, as long as everyone understands that negotiations involve a compromise for all parties, I think there is room for dialogue,” she added. in different parts of Europe, although I do not think that such negotiations will be easy and quick; it is obvious that the agreement of the US and Russia alone is not enough.”
Finally, the director of the Kennan Institute in Washington, Matthew Rozhansky, does not hide his alarm. “Now is a very difficult and even dangerous time,” he wrote. “Judging by the public aspect of the discussion, the debate on European security has not advanced that far in relation to a situation that has persisted for many years, despite the current crisis atmosphere., that is, very real risks of escalation, which would not meet the interests of either side, but would have their own dynamics.”
“It is worth noting that although Russia and the United States have completely different views of the causes of the current crisis, both sides express support for the principles of the indivisibility of security in Europe, enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 Paris Charter,” added the head of the Kennan Center. Reaffirming these principles and backing them up with concrete deeds would establish the proper framework for any future dialogue on European security.”
What to expect?
What further developments should be expected in the current situation, no one really knows yet. Graham simply suggested waiting until “US-Russian talks in the second half of January” and warned that the question of “how much progress can be made and how quickly” remains “open.”
Pifer is frankly afraid that Moscow is looking for casus belli. “Some elements in the draft agreements could serve as a basis for negotiations – if only the Russian side is ready to take into account the fact that others are worried about their security because of Russia and its actions,” he wrote. when making demands and overheating in Moscow’s rhetoric (the US mercenaries are planning a chemical attack – are you serious?) do not talk about the Kremlin’s desire for serious negotiations. Rather, it seems that the Kremlin wants the West to reject these agreements in order to get another pretext for combat. I am increasingly concerned that Moscow is laying the groundwork for a war against Ukraine that will be a tragedy for both countries.”
The rest, however, are not so alarmist. “I expect the American approach to negotiations to be conscientious but of limited flexibility,” Bremmer wrote. “Round one will be key. no, there is a high probability that the Russians will escalate, although, I think, still not right up to the invasion of Ukraine, since this clearly does not meet anyone’s interests.”
Oliker, for his part, hopes: “… we will actually see negotiations and, possibly, a series of agreements and all sorts of agreements as a result.” The starting point, in her opinion, should be not only Russian projects, but also “other issues that will be put on the table by the NATO member states.” “Large all-encompassing agreements in the near future are unrealistic for legal, political and practical reasons,” the expert warned. If a large-scale conflict occurs in Ukraine, the subsequent negotiations are unlikely to bring Russia more than what it wants; rather, the opposite is true.”
“I am encouraged by the commitment of all countries to dialogue, although the possibility of escalation should be taken very seriously,” stated Rozhansky. reflect the attitude of the Russian leadership, and it is important for Western counterparts to understand this. The United States and its European allies are also committed to diplomacy along with containment, and the President of Ukraine is clearly in favor of direct dialogue with Moscow.”
“Of course, diplomacy is not magic,” continued the director of the Kennan Institute. “None of these initiatives will transform the situation at once, but they are much preferable to military conflict. They can also clarify positions and points of disagreement, create communication channels to avoid miscalculations, help establish or restore some confidence in the working level. But any progress will depend on many factors, including domestic politics and sudden unexpected events. Like many around the world, I pray that this holiday season will bring a spirit of peace, not war.”
Well, one cannot but join such a prayer. It is customary for Christians to glorify the Nativity of the Savior with the words “peace on earth, goodwill in men.” So the press secretary of the Kremlin Dmitry Peskov, on the eve of negotiations on Russian initiatives, advises to maintain hope and “restrained optimism.”
I hope that good wishes will be accepted everywhere – from Moscow and Washington to Brussels and Kiev. And for my part, I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and free from ailments and misfortunes New Year!