What to expect from US-Russia security talks
The high-stakes negotiations come amid worsening relations between Washington and Moscow
Russian and American diplomats are locked in a flurry of negotiations over strategic stability on the European continent, with Moscow and Washington both sending delegations for talks at the US Mission to the UN Office in Geneva.
The main round of discussions began on Monday morning, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin engaging with US First Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. The envoys held preliminary discussions over a working dinner the evening before, with Ryabkov describing the conversations as difficult but businesslike.
What’s on the agenda?
The negotiations were announced after Moscow published two draft treaties in December, which it says are designed to reduce the risk of hostilities with the West. Russia is seeking written guarantees that NATO will not expand further eastwards, and that previous pledges to eventually admit former Soviet Republics Ukraine and Georgia into the bloc will be reversed.
In addition, the proposed agreements demand that NATO limit its forces to the territory of nations that were members prior to 1997, effectively barring its troops and hardware from the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, including Poland and the Baltic states. Another article calls for both sides not to deploy intermediate and short-range land-based missiles in the vicinity of each other’s territory.
As well as pledging that ambitions of Ukrainian elites to join the bloc won’t materialize, Moscow’s draft treaty would also ban NATO troops from any joint military activity in the country, as well as in other Eastern European, Transcaucasian, and Central Asian states.
Why is Russia demanding concessions?
Tensions have risen in recent months amid a series of claims that Russia could be planning an all-out military invasion of Ukraine. Washington has 5warned that any aggression would be met with a range of punitive measures, with American Vice President Kamala Harris saying that the White House is “prepared to issue sanctions like you’ve not seen before.”
Russia denies that it is planning any such offensive and insists that the presence of troops and hardware near the border are not a precursor to a large-scale conflict. Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has hit out at the claims as “hysteria” and said that “the movement of our armed forces on our own territory should be of no concern to anyone.”
President Vladimir Putin used his annual end-of-year press conference to accuse NATO of lying by giving assurances in the 1990s that it would not expand “an inch to the east.” According to him, pledges given to Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev were disregarded, with Putin arguing that “they cheated us. Vehemently. Blatantly. NATO is expanding.”
For that reason, Putin said, written assurances are necessary. Even then, he claimed, a signed agreement could still be torn up by Washington unilaterally. “You and I both know very well: under various pretexts, including the purpose of ensuring their own security, that they act thousands of kilometers away from their national territory,” Putin argued. “When international law and the UN Charter interfere, they declare it all obsolete and unnecessary.”
Will the talks succeed?
The immediate reaction to Russia’s proposals in the West was overwhelmingly negative, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisting that the bloc would not “end up in a situation where we have second-class NATO members where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them.”
“The risk of conflict is real. Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe,” he claimed.
Stoltenberg also rejects Putin’s insistence that the bloc had disregarded its prior promises, saying that there had never been any pledges that it would not expand. “We cannot question NATO’s right to protect and defend all allies, nor the basic principle that every nation has the right to choose its own path,” he said.
However, the American side has agreed to meet to discuss Moscow’s draft treaties, and the EU has urged Washington to involve it in any decision-making about the future of European security.
Many analysts have argued that Russia’s demands are almost certain to be rejected by the West in their current form, and that the talks could lead to concessions made on both sides. Stoltenberg has said that “we are ready to listen to Russia’s concerns, but we also expect that Russia will take into account our concerns.”
Moscow’s delegates, however, have warned that they will not water down their demands during the talks. “The American side must prepare for compromises,” Ryabkov said on Monday. “The Russian side came here with a clear position, with clear and understandable formulations … so there simply cannot be deviations from our current approach.”
Following the talks, both sides are expected to speak to the media on Monday evening. Broad discussions will then be held with NATO and with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).