On April 27, at a meeting with the Council of Lawmakers, President Putin accused the West of always pursuing a policy of containing Russia. He said no one could imagine the creation of an “anti-Russia” on historical Russian territory. He claimed that Ukraine was pushed into direct confrontation with Russia and the Ukrainian people were allotted the destiny of “expendable material.” He said,
On April 5, 2022, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that assertions of “war crimes” are a pretext to torpedo the ongoing negotiations at a time when some light, however dim, has appeared at the end of the tunnel. Then, elaborating on the talks held in Istanbul on March 29, 2022, he said:
“For the first time ever, the Ukrainian side has put on paper that it is prepared to declare Ukraine a neutral, non-aligned, and non-nuclear state, and to refuse to deploy weapons from foreign states on its territory or to conduct exercises on its territory with the participation of foreign military personnel, unless they are approved by all guarantors of the future treaty, including the Russian Federation. The security guarantees envisaged by the treaty are a step toward everyone realizing that the negotiations need to completely rule out NATO’s eastward expansion, primarily to Ukraine, and to ensure indivisible security in Europe.”
The following was my summing-up of the Ukraine conflict seven years ago:
“News from Ukraine and Ukraine-related developments are not encouraging. The Minsk cease-fire remains fragile. Political and economic difficulties facing Ukraine show no sign of abating. The Government does not appear strong and determined enough. There has been no progress on the level of autonomy to be recognized to the separatist regions. The conflict between “federalization” and “decentralization” continues. Ukraine troops are now being trained by American officers. Russia’s naval deployments and air activity are becoming increasingly reminiscent of the Cold War. NATO is holding joint exercises in Poland, Lithuania, the US in Georgia. The Treaty on Alliance and Integration between Russia and South Ossetia has been submitted to the State Duma for ratification. The flow of immigrants and asylum seekers from Ukraine into EU countries is on the rise… The West continues to see Mr. Putin as an unpredictable leader determined not to allow Ukraine to chart its future. He says that he wants as close interaction as possible with the US, based on equal rights and mutual respect of interests and positions of each other. Both the West and Russia seemingly desire to put the Ukraine conflict behind and move forward but words and deeds do not match.” [i]
On January 26, the US and NATO delivered their written responses to Russia’s security demands in Eurasia. A day later, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the media that the responses offer grounds for serious talks only on matters of secondary importance; that there is no positive response to the main issue which is continued NATO enlargement towards the east and the deployment of strike weapons that can pose a threat to Russian territory.
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.”
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 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.”
In a recent post I said, “Moscow and Peking were no doubt delighted to see the US get bogged down in Afghanistan for two decades, just as Washington was delighted to watch USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan end up in failure. But after two disastrous experiences, history should not be allowed to repeat itself. Washington should not start enjoying what might be the negative repercussions of the Taliban victory for its two strategic competitors…
“The terrorist threat has taken deep root in the Middle East with its long-drawn-out conflicts. To stop its spreading elsewhere, major powers have no other option than working together. Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping agreeing that competition should not veer into conflict is a positive sign.” [i]Obviously, my assessment of the readout of their call was an overstatement.
Many military and intelligence experts predicted that the withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be an easy operation. With chaotic evacuations and the devastating twin bomb attacks of last Thursday, they proved right.
Through the withdrawal Washington not only empowered the Taliban politically but also left behind millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment, arms, and ammunition leading to questions. Was this only in exchange for a safe evacuation or more? The “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America” was signed in Doha on February 29, 2020. What was negotiated and agreed on since then? Is there a broader agreement? On July 8, President Biden was asked if he trusted the Taliban. This was his response: “It’s a silly question. Do I trust the Taliban? No…” Has this changed? Are the Taliban no longer an enemy but a partner? If so, has this been discussed with NATO partners? Have they agreed?