Russia Demands NATO Pullback in Security Talks With U.S.
(Bloomberg) -- Russia demanded that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization roll back almost a quarter-century of expansion by withdrawing forces from eastern Europe and halt further growth, an unprecedented challenge to the U.S. and its allies that could derail efforts to end a standoff over Ukraine.
The proposals set out in two draft treaties on Friday drew a skeptical reaction from the military alliance, which has rejected similar demands before, even as the U.S. and NATO indicated they’re willing to talk with Moscow about European security.
“We have seen the Russian proposals, we’re discussing them with our European allies and partners,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “We will not compromise the key principles on which European security is built, including that all countries have the right to decide their own future and foreign policy free from the outside interference.”
Russia must de-escalate tensions over Ukraine as an “indispensable pre-condition” for any talks to begin, NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said in an interview.
The documents came after U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to a demand from Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin for talks on his security concerns, following a massive Russian military build-up near its border with Ukraine. The U.S. has warned European allies Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine as soon as next month, which the Kremlin denies. Putin has insisted on binding security guarantees that NATO won’t expand further east toward Russia or station offensive weapons near its border.
NATO diplomats are trying to work out whether the proposed treaties released by the Russian Foreign Ministry are the opening gambit in a negotiation or a deliberately unacceptable package aimed at scuttling the talks before they begin.
Asked about Russia’s proposals, a senior Biden administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Friday that some were useful and some were unacceptable, and the U.S. plans to get back to Russia with a response sometime next week. The official said the U.S. also wants to see a Christmas cease-fire and prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine.
In one of its proposals, Russia said NATO states that were members in May 1997, before the first eastern European countries were invited to join the alliance, shouldn’t “deploy military forces and weaponry on the territory of any of the other States in Europe” that weren’t already in place on that date.
The U.S. must pledge to bar entry to NATO for ex-Soviet states such as Ukraine and Georgia and refuse to make use of their military infrastructure or develop bilateral defense ties with them, according to the second proposed treaty.
Russia and the U.S. would also agree not to fly heavy bombers armed with nuclear or non-nuclear weapons or deploy warships “outside national airspace and national territorial waters” if they could be used to attack another country, the document said.
“This could be a way to shock the West into a response,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which advises the Kremlin. “But the fact that the proposals were made publicly makes it very hard to talk.”
Moscow hasn’t set out such a public laundry list of demands at the start of past negotiations, according to Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia. “This makes me doubt Putin’s real commitment to a genuine negotiation, and makes me worry about what might come next,” McFaul, who’s now a professor at Stanford University, said in an email.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters at a briefing that the treaties aren’t intended to be rejected. “Our position is that we need to remove all this and return to the positions of 1997,” Ryabkov said. “Enough is enough.”
Russia’s demands “are completely unacceptable,” Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet said on Facebook. “The implementation of any measure proposed by the Russian Federation would be catastrophic for European security.”
Russia’s position may be that “in the current situation you have to start negotiations with the toughest demands to understand how serious your counterparts’ intentions are,” said Victoria Zhuraleva, head of the Center for North American Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. At the same time, Putin doesn’t believe a compromise is possible and the likeliest outcome is that Russia will maintain forces on Ukraine’s border indefinitely to ensure a constant threat, she said.
Russia’s draft treaties are “not serious diplomacy,” said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat who’s now a Moscow-based foreign policy analyst. “You don’t start sensitive talks by publishing a list of your demands, because then you are boxing yourself in and you have no space for a climbdown.”
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