U.S. officials will meet with Russian diplomats in Geneva on Monday in the first of a series of meetings that could be crucial to European security.
Russia has set out its red lines in two draft treaties – and with about 100,000 troops close to Ukraine’s eastern border, threatened with military action if they were not complied with. US and European officials will oppose their own demands that Moscow adhere to the fundamental principles of European security: that countries can decide their own foreign and defense policies and that borders are not changed by force.
Expectations of a agreement on a new security arrangement between Moscow and the west is low.
“I do not think we will see any breakthroughs next week,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday. “We will see if there are grounds for progress, [but] “It is very difficult to see that happening when there is a constant escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine.”
Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s deputy, will try in Geneva to reach a common ground with her Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov that could pave the way for further talks.
“At this stage, it is very much a dialogue, not a negotiation,” said one Western official.
But Ryabkov said Moscow expects a “high probability” that the The US and NATO will not take their demands seriously. “We will not make any concessions under pressure or the threats that Western participants are constantly making against us,” Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti.
Ryabkov said talks that did not take Russia’s demands as a starting point would be “meaningless” and insisted that Moscow negotiate only on its own terms.
“We do not go out with our hands, we have a clearly defined goal that we must achieve on the conditions we set. That’s all there is, “Ryabkov said.
But Moscow’s highest demand that there be no further expansion of NATO was firmly rejected by Washington and its allies.
“I do not see NATO or the US wanting to scratch that Russian itch,” said Rose Gottemoeller, a former NATO deputy secretary general and former assistant secretary of state for arms control. “NATO is not going to change its policy on enlargement, period. It is part of NATO’s DNA. “
Andrew Weiss, vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said an agreement similar to the Yalta agreements between the Soviet Union, the USA and the UK that divided Europe after World War II was unlikely,
Aside from former US President Donald Trump, “it’s just hard to imagine the willingness of a normal mainstream American politician to entertain moves with the Russians that bring back vivid memories of Yalta and other backroom deals in the 19th century. which is a great hardship for countries in Europe, ”he said.
A second Russian demand – that NATO forces not deploy forces or weapons in member states that joined after the fall of the Soviet Union – will also be rejected. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said on Friday that he would alliance’s eastern members to second class membership.
In 1997, NATO agreed not to permanently place combat troops in its members who were part of the Soviet bloc and deployed very few troops or equipment in those countries.
The policy changed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. NATO strengthened its presence in Poland and the Baltic states. But the battle groups are small and posted on a rotational basis. It could scale them down again in theory, but it is unlikely to happen without a full Russian withdrawal from Ukraine.
Possible common ground
Russia’s call for a ban on the deployment of ground-launched medium-range missiles could provide a basis for re-engagement with arms control. The 1987 mid-range nuclear treaty covering such weapons, which collapsed in 2019 over allegations of Russia’s transgressions, was violated when Moscow deployed its 9M729 cruise missile. The US may be willing to renegotiate new controls if Russia agrees to include the 9M729 with authentication mechanisms.
Moscow’s demands for restrictions on military deployment and on exercises near its borders can be addressed in a renegotiation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which Russia abandoned in 2015.
Finally, Russia’s request for more transparency, consultation and exchanges with the Alliance on Security Threats can be met through renewed use of existing procedures, known as the Vienna Documents, which Moscow has largely neglected.
Russia’s three meetings this week could theoretically pave the way for separate negotiations: with the US on arms control, with NATO on power deployment and exercises, and with the OSCE on transparency.
Despite skepticism about Russia’s series of violations, the West must be prepared to renegotiate security treaties, said Patricia Lewis, director of the international security program at the British think tank Chatham House.
“You can go into this in good faith – with your eyes wide open.”
The way forward
A successful outcome of this week’s meetings will be a commitment by both sides to a “process and clear substantive agenda” for further talks, Gottemoeller said, but it will require Moscow to seek “mutual benefit”.
Progress will also depend on Russian de-escalation at Ukraine’s borders. Blinken said Russian aggression against Ukraine would be “in front and in the middle” in the meetings, but he indicated that Monday’s session would not directly address the so-called Minsk process to end the conflict in the eastern Donbas region. Paris and Berlin are managed, to end. .
The big question, analysts say, is whether the Kremlin wants the talks to fail from the outset.
“They’re not just asking for things that you know are not beginners, they’re asking them specifically in a way that they know will ensure they will not get them,” says Michael Kofman, senior research scientist at CNA, a Washington-based brainstorm.
“The framework, even of the things in the Russian proposal that are plausible to discuss, is so inflammatory that it is impossible,” said Samuel Charap, senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, an American think tank. “It’s really about whether they are prepared to step down from the maximalist demands and accept something less than the whole. [set]. ”