No reward for Putin’s aggression
Accepting talks with a belligerent power threatening to invade another country will inevitably be seen as a reward for the intimidation. But the United States and its NATO allies have no choice but to engage with Russia in a series of meetings this week in an attempt to avoid a conflagration in Ukraine, even if that appears to be part of it. of a Kremlin protection racket. There might even be room for compromise that would address some of Moscow’s so-called security concerns and avoid the threat of full-scale war. The willingness of Russian President Vladimir Putin to engage in good faith is another question.
Last month, Russia published its demands for a complete rewrite of the European security system in two draft treaties, with the United States and with NATO. Russian officials have issued a series of threatening ultimatums. In both style and substance, this was not a way to start talks. The texts contain eccentric and unilateral demands that go against the founding principles of post-Cold War European security, including the right of each country to choose its own foreign policy. Western allies could never agree to these demands and Moscow knows it.
Putin is obsessed with stopping NATO enlargement. He says that by expanding, the alliance betrayed assurances given at the end of the Cold War – not to mention the fact that Russia nodded when it settled its own relationship with the organization in 1998. For Moscow, keeping Ukraine out of NATO is at the heart of its centuries. old insistence on the creation of a buffer zone on the borders of Russia.
But to explicitly refuse NATO membership in Ukraine, let alone Sweden or Finland, would violate NATO’s founding treaty. Its members will not unanimously agree to modify it. They shouldn’t reward Russian bullying either. There is no desire to bring Ukraine in at this point, but it would be naÃ¯ve to think that ending Kiev’s NATO aspirations would end Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine.
US and EU officials are rightly determined that these talks cannot be defined by Russia’s red lines. They will counter with theirs. Russia’s violation of territorial integrity, denial of the right of nations to choose their own fate, repeated aggressions against Ukraine, and the various ways destabilizing other Western democracies must all be on the table. The challenge for diplomats on both sides will be to identify commonalities within this fray that could serve as a basis for further talks and possibly structured negotiations.
Fortunately, there are, even if it means reinventing some of the treaty provisions that Russia has violated or neglected in the past. Russia’s unbalanced demand that it and the United States refrain from deploying ground-launched intermediate-range missiles outside their national territories could serve as a basis for talks to replace the 1987 treaty on these. weapons that collapsed in 2018 after the Russian violations. Russia and NATO could explore new controls over the deployment and exercises of conventional forces and agree to renewed transparency and communications. NATO has ruled out creating “second class” members where it cannot station troops. But he could possibly reconsider deployments to frontline countries if Moscow made peace with Kiev and accepted limits on placing its own forces or weapons in Belarus or Kaliningrad.
Progress will require goodwill on both sides, and Russia is showing none by pointing a gun at Ukraine’s temple. Russian de-escalation along Ukraine’s borders is a prerequisite for any substantive negotiations. Putin may have every intention of walking away and using the failed talks as a pretext to attack. The West must hope for the best of its diplomacy while preparing for the worst by stressing that it is ready to impose severe sanctions and strengthen Kiev’s defenses.