Arnis Latišenko, Politikwissenschaftler, Latvijas Avīze, JSC Latvijas Mediji
On January 10 this year, US and Russian diplomats began high-level talks that lasted about eight hours. These talks actually covered the European security architecture, Russia’s ultimatums to NATO, and tensions over Ukraine. The United States was represented by US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, while Russia was represented by Deputy Secretary of State Sergei Ryabkov.
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Two days later, on January 12, the next series of talks between NATO and Russia, chaired by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, took place in Brussels and lasted four hours. Finally, talks at the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on 13 January closed the week.
The result appears to have been fruitless, and indeed the West has not yielded to Russian pressure. But is the storm really over?
On December 17, 2021, the Russian Foreign Ministry released two surprisingly pretentious drafts: a draft agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States on security measures and a draft agreement on security measures for the Russian Federation and NATO members.
They offered (asked) the United States and its NATO allies to accept unconditional surrender and to recognize the Kremlin’s privileged sphere of interest in the countries of the former USSR and the Warsaw Pact. These draft documents are so far-reaching that the Kremlin itself is unlikely to believe in the seriousness of its offer.
Even at Sergei Ryabkov’s press conference, which again demonstrated the declining level of current Russian public diplomacy, journalists questioned the feasibility of the Russian proposals. Nonetheless, Ryabkov continued to communicate in the same way that year, announcing before the talks that NATO should “gather up its belongings and move to the 1997 borders.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken explained the logic of American diplomacy that it is better to negotiate and try to achieve de-escalation than to achieve actual conflict by “military-technical means”.
The Americans have repeatedly stated that without their presence they will not speak about their allies. At the same time, as Mr Blinken points out, Americans will really find certain points of contact that will ease international tensions. Could there really be such points of contact and could one agree at all?
Possible starting points
An agreement that Ukraine will never, ever, never join NATO, as Ryabkov called for, is not possible, and Russia will not be able to obtain such guarantees. Such a written agreement would clearly violate Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which provides that any European state may be invited to join the treaty in agreement with the Allies.
On the other hand, a secret informal deal with the Kremlin is too risky, as it would be a clear departure from the principles professed by the United States and could be used by the Kremlin for further blackmail. Also, with the advent of a new US presidential administration, such an arrangement would likely no longer hold.
At the same time, in future talks, the Kremlin could try to make the Americans more assertive towards Ukraine in the implementation of the Minsk agreement, especially in connection with the reintegration of the Donbass region into Ukraine. The gradual implementation of these agreements becomes a condition for the Ukrainian side to continue its supportive policy, be it military or economic, from the West.
At least all parties, including the United States and Ukraine itself, support this agreement. At the same time, it is clear that the effective implementation of these agreements could allow the Kremlin to gain more influence over Ukraine’s domestic politics through the Donbass region, and could contribute to the Kremlin’s efforts to curb Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
Another aspect that could possibly be agreed upon between the United States and Russia is the issue of the deployment of intermediate and short-range missiles. The missile threat is also one of the cornerstones of Kremlin rhetoric.
In 2019, under the leadership of US President Donald Trump, he withdrew from the Cold War treaty to abolish intermediate and short-range missiles on the grounds that Russia had violated the treaty. In contrast, the Democratic Party condemned Trump’s actions and supported the continuation of arms control talks with Russia.
In the course of the ongoing diplomatic process, a certain compromise on the use and control of armaments is likely to be reached.
The first round of negotiations is expected to end without any significant progress, but it is also natural that in such a short format the parties can only state their positions and the negotiations could continue in different formats.
The further course and course of the negotiations will show whether Russia’s ultimatum is actually an instrument to justify further aggression, a means of pressure within the negotiations or a deceptive maneuver that distracts from the actual strategy and goals of the negotiations.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to maintain psychological tensions and raise interest rates as if rushing to the West. This is reflected not only in more than 100,000 soldiers holding a “gun to Ukraine’s head” at Ukraine’s borders, but also on the night of January 13-14, a cyber attack on the websites of the conducted by Ukrainian authorities.
Although there is no evidence that this was done by Russian hackers as the investigation is ongoing, it is still clear who the main suspect was, as clarified by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joseph Borrell.