Facing disaster? US, Russia take firm stances in negotiations



The failure of diplomatic meetings last week to resolve escalating tensions over Ukraine has placed Russia, the US and their European allies in uncharted territory after the Cold War, posing challenges. significant for the main parties to avoid a head-to-head and potentially catastrophic confrontation.

Unlike previous disagreements that have arisen since the fall of the Soviet Union, the current Ukraine crisis and seemingly insurmountable differences between Washington and Moscow carry real risks of undermining economic warfare. Economic and military conflicts are exacerbated by the risk of miscalculation and overreaction.

For the United States and NATO as well as other European allies, nothing but the withdrawal of the large number of about 100,000 Russian troops currently deployed near the border with Ukraine will demonstrate that Russian President Vladimir Putin has any intentions. good faith negotiations. For the Russians, the West’s absolute refusal to consider the ban on NATO expansion and troop withdrawal from Eastern Europe is proof of its overlap.

Potential concessions are complicated because neither Putin nor President Joe Biden want to be seen as backing down in front of a domestic or foreign audience.

As a result, each side’s refusal to climb down what the other sees as unrealistic and maximalist demands has clouded the diplomatic outlook, with the United States and its allies accusing Russia of cause tension for no good reason and the Russians complain that the Americans are aggressors.

Some believe the situation will get worse before the deadlock can be broken.

“The perception gap is so wide that a new and dangerous escalation may be necessary for the parties to open up,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Moscow-based Defense and Foreign Policy Council. Bring imagination and look for deals. a comment.

To Western analysts, it looks like a situation where Putin will have to compromise if conflict is to be avoided. Some have suggested that Putin’s focus on NATO, which has struggled for years with questions about its relevance, may have given the alliance a new life.

“This is a period of extreme uncertainty and tension,” said Jeff Rathke, a Europe expert and former US diplomat who is now president of the Institute for Contemporary German Studies in the US at Johns Hopkins University. straight line with no clear exit unless Putin backs down.

“He speaks to himself in a frenzy that will be difficult to escape if he does not fundamentally redraw the European security architecture he claims to want. He’s shown he’s willing to play cock with the threat of massive military force to bring it about and he’s certainly caught everyone’s attention, but he hasn’t changed his mind. anyone,” said Rathke.

US officials from Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan to chief negotiator Wendy Sherman have said that Russia faces an “obvious choice”. De-escalate or face sanctions and it’s the opposite of what they want: NATO’s increased presence in Eastern Europe and a better armed Ukraine.

In Russia, however, officials say the shoe is on the other foot. They regard their demands as “absolute imperatives” and argue that the West’s failure to meet their demands makes negotiations on other issues irrelevant.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Russia had been trying for years in vain to convince the United States and its allies to enter into negotiations over not deploying intermediate-range missiles to Europe, limiting the war games and rules to avoid dangerous close encounters between Russia and allied warships and aircraft until the US and NATO express goodwill to discuss such matters this week .

He attributed the change in approach to the US wanting to shift attention away from Russia’s main demands, adding that Moscow would focus on NATO not expanding. And he asserted that it was the United States that was shaping the position in the negotiations while other allies marched at its command.

“Honestly, everyone understands that the prospect of reaching an agreement depends on the United States,” Lavrov said. He said anything the US says about the need to consult its allies in the negotiations is “just excuses and trying to pull the process out”.

Such is the deadlock.

Andrew Weiss, vice president for research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research in Washington and Moscow on Russia and Eurasia, said the Western approach requires “diplomatic effort.” as much as possible to de-escalate.”

“The problem we had was that the Russians had business intentions, and they showed us on a series of occasions, in 2014, in 2008, that they were going to go to war to get these things, and we don’t,” he said. “And that’s the challenge.”

Russia’s hardline and uncompromising stance has led some to believe that Moscow will protest only after receiving what all sides expect to be formal, written refusals from the United States and the United States. NATO to comply with their requests.

Indeed, Russia’s chief negotiator in the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, suggested on Thursday that Moscow could respond to refusals by escalating problems outside of Europe through the development of a nuclear weapon. Unleash the military potential to Cuba and Venezuela. The US has called such a suggestion “a mistake” and said it would react decisively if it happened.

Dmitri Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote in an online analysis: “The lack of a rational diplomatic solution will lead to an exacerbation of the crisis.

Trenin predicts that the range of “military-technical measures” that Putin says Russia will take if the West rejects its demands could include “a range of moves… from the deployment of new weapons systems in various regions to stronger military ties with Belarus and closer coordination with Chinese partners. ”

However, there is a danger that by focusing his anger on NATO, Putin could unwittingly strengthen his hand, especially with its newer members such as the Baltic states, Hungary, and Brazil. Lan and the Czech Republic.

“For the countries that have joined NATO since the end of the Cold War, you can certainly say that NATO is a better fit for them than it was a year ago or in 2014,” said Rathke. no longer relevant to European security has been taught a lesson over the past few months. And it will only get worse.”


Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

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