Author: Samir VELIYEV
The critical phase of tension between Russia and NATO over the past weeks has been perhaps the main destabilising factor in international politics these days. Meanwhile, public statements made by the main conflicting parties have intensified activity among the diplomats. It is therefore critical that the cautious optimism showing up at the end of 2021 is not replaced by disappointment caused by the failures during the first steps of the negotiation process this year.
On December 21, at the annual meeting of the Ministry of Defense Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded the West to provide long-term legal guarantees not to expand to the East. Mr. Putin added that one should not regard his words as an ultimatum. Yet the West interpreted the words of the Russian leader as a warning, expecting Russia to take further measures in this context.
NATO remains concerned with the increasing concentration of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, particularly the Russian military aircraft on the Belarus-Ukrainian border. Western analytical publications even released the maps of a possible theatre of military operations, which show the scenarios of attacks on Ukraine both from Russia and Belarus.
However, this is an element of information warfare designed to create public excitement than to reflect the real plans of the Kremlin. President Putin said that Russia had every right to take military and technical measures to respond to NATO’s ‘aggressive’ actions. The US, EU, and a number of other NATO states believe that Russia's ‘military and technical measures’ are nothing more than preparations for a full-fledged invasion.
Some even compare the situation around Ukraine with the situation on the eve of the Second World War. At the same time, they regard the plans of Russia and Belarus to strengthen the institutional foundations of the Treaty on the Union State as a de facto Anschluss of Belarus by Russia. Preparations for the invasion of Ukraine are interpreted as Moscow's claim to a new military and political division of Europe.
Nonetheless, all these claims are widely spread in the information field and public discourse. Real actions of participants make it possible to come to different conclusions.
Want peace? Get ready... for negotiations
With all due respect to active military preparations, we should not forget that in the past few months the US and NATO have deployed a significant share of weapons and military equipment in Ukraine. Everyone understands how fatal the situation can become if the conflicting parties continue sliding towards a military resolution of the conflict and building up their military potential. In October, the US dispatched 30 Javelin anti-tank missile systems (ATMS) to Ukraine, as well as 80 tons of ammunition. Russia has also significantly increased its troops and weapons at the border with Ukraine. The military force concentrated here can cope with any task. But it is obvious that the parties are clearly in no hurry to implement practical measures to use all this potential.
At the annual large press conference on December 23, President Putin announced that Russia has appointed representatives to negotiate with the US on security guarantees in Europe. He added that the American partners were ready to start the discussion too. The parties are going to discuss draft agreements between Moscow and Washington and Brussels.
In particular, it is planned to reach agreements on such sensitive topics as the prevention of NATO’s further expansion to the East, creation of military bases in the former republics of USSR, which are not the member states of NATO, non-deployment of medium- and shorter-range ground-based missiles beyond own territory, as well as the return of similar weapons already deployed outside the NATO territory. At the same time, Moscow and Washington will eliminate all available infrastructure for the deployment of nuclear weapons outside their national territories, etc.
Simultaneously, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, discussed the Russian proposals and agreed to hold any negotiations with the participation of the EU. The latter made it clear that it did not intend to remain aside of the negotiation process between the US/NATO and Russia and expected not only direct participation, but also influence in the decision-making process on behalf of the West.
It is known that the two leading EU member states, Germany and France, are traditionally sceptical about the admission of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova to the alliance. They have close ties with Moscow and do not want to risk them to the detriment of their own interests. Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, a partner country of Moscow, made a rhetoric remark on the eve of the summit: “Do we have missiles, ships, cannons, and armies? We do not have them now. NATO has other strategic priorities. The only possible means of deterrence is economic sanctions. But Europe is not in a position to refuse Russian gas supplies. Not now," Mr. Draghi said
Spokesman to the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, also said that the NATO member states are by no means unanimous and take different positions in the current confrontation with Russia. “There are countries with an extremely unfriendly position, and there are countries that pursue a consistent line of dialogue and are inclined to take Russia's position into account. Such countries are capable of leading a positive process,” Mr. Peskov said.
So, despite the continuing tension, it is quite likely that the start of negotiations will be a success.
No alternative to agreements
Today it is difficult to imagine that NATO and Russia are ready to fulfil all the conditions that they expect from each other. However, this does not mean that the goals put forward by the parties at the beginning of negotiations cannot be adjusted in the course of the process. They can change the wording and agree on conditional compromises. After all, negotiations mean a search for a compromise, which is a solution by mutual voluntary agreement when both parties sacrifice part of the demands for the sake of reaching a mutual agreement.
According to the NATO leadership, Russia has a chance to demonstrate a constructive attitude and reduce the current tension, not only by suspending the deployment of its forces near Ukraine, but also by starting their gradual withdrawal. “I won’t go into details of intelligence reports. But this is a significant military build-up. There are no signs that it is slowing down. On the contrary, it continues. Thus, Russia has the opportunity to make this Christmas peaceful and calm for all of us by reducing tensions and withdrawing its forces,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
In turn, Russia makes it clear that it is not the calls and statements made by NATO but the concrete measures that can encourage Moscow to act. "Western states should immediately provide Russia with security guarantees instead of keep talking about it," Mr. Putin said at the press conference.
Meanwhile, according to Mr. Stoltenberg, NATO member states deny that the alliance has ever promised Russia not to expand. “Even the founding agreement of our organisation says that every European state can become a member of the alliance,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. However, Moscow has a different opinion on this matter. Earlier Vladimir Putin said that ‘Russia was fooled’ having been assured in the past that NATO would not expand to the East. Yet there have been no less than ‘five waves of NATO expansion’ since then. Washington does not want to delay in its response to the Russian proposals, media reports. An anonymous senior White House official told reporters that the US administration was ready to start negotiations with Russia in early January, but proposed conducting them in three directions: in the format of the already existing so-called ‘strategic dialogue’ between Washington and Moscow, between the NATO Council and Russia, and through the OSCE. Thus, Washington makes clear that the dialogue with Moscow will be as transparent as possible and no agreements will be signed behind their allies and partners.