In mid-December 2021, Russia handed the West two draft documents, “Agreement on Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization”[i] and “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Security Guarantees”[ii].
In their phone call of December 30, Presidents Biden and Putin agreed to the sequence of Strategic Stability Dialogue starting on the 9th and 10th in Geneva, a NATO-Russia Council (NRC) meeting on the 12th, and an OSCE meeting on the 13th. The three sets of talks are now behind.
With the New Year and Christmas celebrations behind, the world is back to the realities of the day. And the new year’s first surprise was the turmoil in Kazakhstan.
In their phone call of December 30, Presidents Biden and Putin had agreed to the sequence of Strategic Stability Dialogue starting on the 9th and 10th in Geneva, a NATO-Russia Council conversation on the 12th, and an OSCE meeting on the 13th.
Thus, during the past week, Secretary Blinken and senior officials of the US State Department were engaged in intensive telephone diplomacy with Washington’s allies and friends across the globe to secure a broad front against Russia in Ukraine. The readout of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s call with Georgian Foreign Minister Zalkaliani said, they “emphasized the need to uphold the right of sovereign nations to choose their own security arrangements and support Georgia and Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of continued Russian aggression and discussed how to enhance peace and security in Europe.”
The top foreign and security policy item of 2021 was the strategic competition between major powers. Its subtitles were “China’s ascendancy”, “Russia’s resurgence” the “waning of American power”. The rise of authoritarianism, democracy’s decline, the failure of multilateralism, and climate change remained subjects of philosophical debate. Needless to say, Covid-19 is still the common enemy but the world failed to close ranks against it.
On December 7, 2021, Presidents Biden and Putin had a two-hour video conference.
According to the White House readout of the meeting, “President Biden focused on what he described as “threatening” movements of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border and outlined the sanctions the United States and its allies would be ready to impose should the situation escalate any further.”
Kremlin readout of the virtual summit said, “In response, Vladimir Putin warned against shifting the responsibility on Russia since it was NATO that was undertaking dangerous attempts to gain a foothold on Ukrainian territory and building up its military capabilities along the Russian border. It is for this reason that Russia is eager to obtain reliable, legally binding guarantees ruling out the eventuality of NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive weapons systems in the countries neighboring Russia.” (Emphasis added)
The so-called “Friends of Syria Group”, now history, held its first meeting in Tunis on February 24, 2012. On April 1, 2012, it met for the second time in Istanbul.
Later that month in 2012, Turkey’s Foreign Minister delivered a major foreign policy speech in the parliament. Emphasizing the genuine desire for change underlying the Arab spring, he declared that attemptsto explain the current developments with plans imposed from abroad and external conspiracies were primarily an insult to the honorable peoples of the region.
Last week, twenty-seven migrants lost their lives trying to cross from France to Britain in an inflatable boat. Coming soon after the standoff at the Belarus-Poland border, the tragedy briefly caught the world’s attention. Britain and France started sparring over the incident and appeared to disagree on measures to be taken to prevent its recurrence. Phrases like, “lack of officers on the ground”, “securing areas”, “unseaworthy boats”, “joint patrols”, “traffickers” appeared frequently in the reporting of the incident and exchanges between the two capitals. Then, the top issue became Prime Minister Johnson making his letter to President Macron public before it reached its destination. This is understandable to a certain extent in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, but only to a certain extent.
In late October Turkish news outlets reported that fifteen individuals suspected of spying for Israel were arrested as part of a security operation. Reportedly, the suspects were spying on senior Hamas officials based in Turkey who were given Turkish citizenship, as well as some foreign students. The network allegedly relied on Palestinian and Syrian nationals living in Turkey. The allegation, not entirely far-fetched, was largely ignored by Israel.
The standoff over migrants on NATO’s and the European Union’s eastern flank is turning into a wider political conflict. For Belarus’s EU neighbors this is a deliberate retaliation for EU sanctions. Ukraine is reinforcing border guards to prevent any attempts by migrants to enter the country since it shares a 1084-kilometer border with Belarus. According to the Kremlin readout of a call between President Putin and Chancellor Merkel, the former supports the restoration of contacts between the EU and Belarus with a view to resolving the problem. It appears that parties most directly involved in the conflict also have domestic policy considerations in mind. Most of the initial reporting on the crisis referred to “a standoff at the EU-Belarus border”, but this is the NATO-Belarus border as well. And Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia are now considering asking NATO to hold emergency talks under Article 4 of the treaty which says that “the Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”