United States and Russia: Progress in Talks or Preparations for War?

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and US President Joe Biden meet at Villa la Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. / AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and US President Joe Biden meet at Villa la Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. / AP

Editor’s Note: Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist based in Serbia. He mainly covers Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian foreign policy and writes for several ezines. The article reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily those of CGTN.

If the war is a continuation of politics by other means, it is unlikely that Russia and the West-backed Ukraine will engage in a full-scale military confrontation until all diplomatic means are available. exhausted. In other words, until mid-January, when Russian and US officials are expected to end their scheduled meetings, the situation in Eastern Europe will remain relatively calm.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Ukraine on December 7, when they agreed to continue their dialogue. Indeed, three weeks later, on December 30, the two leaders held another virtual meeting and discussed not only the situation in the Eastern European country, but also the upcoming security talks between the two countries. Reports said the two leaders saw areas of progress in upcoming diplomatic talks, but also areas where agreements may be impossible.

Russian and American officials are due to meet in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 10, followed by talks between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on January 12 and a meeting on January 13 with Russia. , the United States and other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Thus, Putin and Biden paved the way for future talks on “strategic stability”.

It should be noted that their virtual meeting, initiated by the Russian leader, convened at 3:35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, or 11:35 p.m. Moscow time. This small detail indicates that the Russian president had to stay awake until 12:25 a.m., when the meeting ended.

Ahead of their talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “the negotiations are being conducted with one goal – to reach a compromise, taking into account the red lines of each side”. It should be remembered, however, that Biden stressed on December 4 that he does not accept red lines from anyone, and during the meeting he reportedly told Putin that the West would impose large-scale sanctions if the Russian escalation along the Ukrainian border continued.

Additionally, ahead of the phone call between the US and Russian leaders, US officials announced that Biden would demand that Russia withdraw around 100,000 troops from the Ukrainian border. If the Kremlin obeys this American request, such a decision will be interpreted as a sign of Russian weakness.

Russian officials have repeatedly reiterated that troop movements are purely defensive given increased NATO military activity near Russia’s borders, and stressed that the Russian Federation has the right to move forces on its own territory in the interest of its national security. However, the very fact that Moscow has to justify its actions on its sovereign territory to the West is a clear sign that the United States still has significant influence over Russia.

Ukrainian border guards watch a special vehicle dig a trench on the Russian-Ukrainian border near Sumy, Ukraine, December 21, 2021./CFP

Ukrainian border guards watch a special vehicle dig a trench on the Russian-Ukrainian border near Sumy, Ukraine, December 21, 2021./CFP

Moscow has already withdrawn 10,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, indicating that the Kremlin is ready to make concessions to Washington. In fact, many points of Russia’s “ultimatum” to the United States on December 17 are just a list of concessions Moscow is prepared to make if Washington promises there will be no NATO expansion to the East.

Days before the Putin-Biden summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the West could not be taken at its word. Yet the Kremlin insists on the “legally binding guarantees” of its Western partners. Russia is asking for written confirmation that NATO will not expand closer to Russia’s borders and that Ukraine’s long-standing membership aspirations will not be fulfilled. But even if the United States and NATO agree to sign such a document, there is absolutely no guarantee that the West will implement a potential deal. Russia, on the other hand, does not appear to have a mechanism to force Western powers to implement the deal. It is therefore not clear why Moscow is insisting on a legally binding document, especially given its previous failed deals with the West.

There don’t seem to be any good options for Russia. Time is certainly not on its side. Even if Ukraine never joins NATO, Kiev should continue to buy arms from NATO countries. Although Biden reportedly told Putin that the United States has no plans to deploy offensive weapons in Ukraine, the Eastern European nation already has a significant number of Turkish-made Bayraktar drones, as well as the Javelin anti-tank missiles made in the United States.

In the medium and long term, Ukraine will be ready to restore its sovereignty over the Donbass region which is currently controlled by pro-Russian forces. If Russia intervenes, the West will undoubtedly impose tough sanctions on Moscow, a move that will have a negative impact on the Russian economy. If the Kremlin stands aside, Kiev will not take too long to resolve the Donbass conflict by force. Shortly afterwards, Ukraine and the West will open up the Crimea question. Thus, the Kremlin’s space for political maneuvering is not as large as it appears.

Sooner or later Moscow may have to choose between a tough stance on the West, even if that means harsh anti-Russian sanctions and a West-backed war on Ukraine, and humiliation on the West. the international scene. For some political circles within the Kremlin, preserving the status quo as long as possible would be the ideal solution. But that doesn’t seem possible. 2022 represents what Russian officials call the “moment of truth” for relations between Russia and the United States.

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