Russia-USA talks: will the first pancake be botched?

MOSCOW, 10 Jan 2022, RUSSTRAT Institute.

 

According to information confirmed in the media, the Kremlin and the White House have talks on strategic stability and security issues scheduled for January 10. Then the situation in Europe, with a strong “Ukrainian accent”, will be discussed at the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on January 12 and January 13 with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

What exactly will be discussed at these meetings can be found out from the draft strategic documents that were posted on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The first of them is called the “Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Security Guarantees“, and the second is the “Agreement on Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and the Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation“.

The upcoming series of negotiations has several important features that set their tone, format and expectations. In recent months, the Russian side has stressed at various levels that the United States can be the main and even the only interlocutor. Other participants in the negotiations have much less subjectivity and will be forced to follow in line with the agreements of Russia and the United States, if any of them will arise.

This is a fundamental point, which, despite all its cynicism, is hard to challenge. Going beyond the issue of political influence, and in some cases Washington’s complete control over the NATO partner countries, the United States remains the main military and financial force of this bloc. On average, about 80% of NATO’s funding and military power comes from the United States. This means that even if conditional Romania or Montenegro will have a “special opinion”, in practice it will mean absolutely nothing.

Separately, it should be noted that the thesis about the actual vassalage of the remaining 29 NATO members (and even more so those aspiring to be there) was stated to the United States in a clear and direct form, without diplomatic euphemisms. For example, in an article dedicated to Ukraine written by Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, where the politician used the phrase “it is pointless to deal with vassals. The deal should be conducted with a suzerain”.

Such directness, among other things, underlines the level of Russia’s fears about the current military-political situation at its borders, which is dangerously close to the fact that Moscow will have to react in the broadest sense – since none of the numerous attempts on our part to agree “in a good way” have yielded results.

Let’s recall that Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke exhaustively on this issue during an expanded meeting of the Board of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on November 18, 2021, and instructed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to focus all necessary diplomatic efforts in this direction.

“It is absolutely necessary to already raise the question, Sergey Viktorovich, it is necessary to raise the question of seeking to provide Russia with serious long-term guarantees to ensure our security in this area, because Russia cannot exist like this and constantly think about what may happen there tomorrow,” Vladimir Putin stressed.

There are, however, great doubts that US suzerainty will be explicitly recognised by Washington. It’s not about decency and concern for the feelings of NATO partner countries: Washington simply does not benefit from taking personal responsibility for such decisions. An appeal to the fact that any decision within the framework of NATO can only be a consensus will be very beneficial for the United States: referring to the predictable protest against the treaty of Poland or Lithuania with Russia, the process of concluding an agreement on security guarantees can always be torpedoed.

In this sense, a direct agreement with the United States has a greater chance of a constructive result than a dialogue with NATO. The bilateral dialogue provided for by the very title of the document implies greater unambiguity and clarity of the framework. Nevertheless, it is hardly worth hoping that Russia’s outstretched hand will be met with readiness.

Impassable in advance

On December 21, 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, commenting on Russia’s proposals on security guarantees, said that among them are both those that are clearly unacceptable and those that can be discussed. Also, according to him, the United States intends to “put on the table what Russia needs to respond to”.

So far, there has been no information about what exactly the United States can present as its position. However, it is possible to conclude with a fairly high degree of confidence which precisely Russian demands will be rejected, and how this will be explained. Although there are only seven articles bearing a practical core in the draft agreement proposed by Moscow, each of them is awaiting serious discussion.

Thus, Article 1 states that “The Parties interact on the basis of the principles of indivisible and equal security, without prejudice to each other’s security and for these purposes; do not take actions and do not carry out activities affecting the security of the other Party, do not participate in them and do not support them; do not implement security measures taken by each Party individually or within the framework of an international organisation, military alliance or coalition that would undermine the fundamental security interests of the other Party”.

This point will definitely not be supported by the United States. In particular, because the “fundamental interests” of US security, in Washington’s understanding, cover the entire globe and the space within reach. What should be understood as “fundamental security interests” – the administrations of US presidents decide for themselves. In 2010, under Barack Obama, an up-to-date and not yet canceled version of the understanding of the “national security” of the United States was adopted.

According to this document, US national security includes “the security of the United States, its citizens, allies and partners; a strong, innovative and growing US economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunities and prosperity; respect for universal values at home and around the world; an international order advanced by the US leadership that promotes peace, security and opportunities through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges”.

Accordingly, any actions that directly or indirectly threaten the financial or economic dominance of the United States, the international order “put forward by the US leadership”, as well as values (LGBT, etc.) are considered a violation of Washington’s security interests. It is difficult to say under what conditions Washington could opt for such self-denial from planetary egocentrism.

Especially that the concept of “national security” of the United States includes “military advantage over any foreign nation or group of nations”. Although this condition is objectively no longer relevant, American experts themselves have no illusions about the outcome of the US’ simultaneous war against China and Russia, it is unlikely that the US is ready to admit such a fact openly.

Article 2 of the treaty proposed by Russia has a certain chance of success. It reads as follows: “The Parties strive to ensure that any international organisations, military alliances or coalitions in which at least one of the Parties participates comply with the principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations.” Since the principles of the UN Charter have long been interpreted in any pleasing way, it is unlikely that the willingness to implement them will burden anyone.

Certain perspectives can be seen in Article 3 of the draft treaty. “The parties do not use the territory of other States for the purpose of preparing or carrying out an armed attack against the other Party, or other actions affecting the fundamental security interests of the other Party.” – this is how this article sounds.

Since it is difficult to find an example in all human history when someone openly announced the concentration of troops on the territory of the union state for a treacherous attack – it is usually said about ensuring the security of an ally, then this point will not be a burden for anyone either. If, of course, it will be possible to somehow limit the globalism of US security interests.

The most “problematic” will probably be Article 4, where “The United States of America undertakes to exclude further expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in the eastern direction, to refuse admission to the alliance of states that were previously members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

In addition, “the United States of America will not establish military bases on the territory of states that were previously members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, use their infrastructure for conducting any military activity, as well as develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”

We can say that the United States has already responded to this with the help of the “talking head” of the alliance – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. According to Stoltenberg, the North Atlantic Alliance will not allow Russia to impose some unilateral restrictions on it or to ensure that some of the NATO member states are considered “second-rate” and not subject to protection, and also categorically refused “to compromise on the right of every nation in Europe to decide its own fate”.

Among other things, the article implies the US’ abandonment of military bases in the Baltic states, as well as Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova. Whether the presence of US aircraft and drones in the airspace of Ukraine should be considered as using the infrastructure of this country will also cause discussion, as well as the wording about “bilateral cooperation”. The mentioned Ukraine can do little to strengthen the military power of the United States, which means that cooperation here is rather one-sided.

It is worth noting that the wording of the article in areas significant for Russia can be easily bypassed by Washington. For example, there is a formal line between the “Ukrainian base with American weapons purchased on credit and American instructors” and the “American base”, which removes the first option from the scope of a possible agreement.

Article 5 also comes into critical contradiction with the American worldview, since, according to it, “The Parties refrain from deploying their armed forces and weapons, including within the framework of international organisations, military alliances or coalitions, in areas where such deployment would be perceived by the other Party as a threat to their national security, with the exception of such deployment within the national territories of the Parties.”

In addition, “the parties refrain from flying heavy bombers equipped for nuclear or non-nuclear weapons, and presence of surface warships of all classes, including within the framework of alliances, coalitions and organisations, in areas, respectively, outside national airspace and outside national territorial waters, from where they can hit targets on the territory of the other Party.”

Thus, for example, American ships are forbidden to enter the Black or Mediterranean Seas, not to mention the waters close to the northern regions of Russia. It is unlikely that the American leadership has reached sufficient flexibility to accept such conditions.

Whereas the part of the article where “The Parties maintain dialogue and cooperate to improve mechanisms for preventing dangerous military activities on the high seas and in the airspace above it, including the coordination of the maximum distance of approach of warships and aircraft” may well be approved.

Article 6 obliges the parties “not to deploy medium- and shorter-range ground-based missiles outside the national territory, as well as in those areas of their national territory from which such weapons are capable of hitting targets on the national territory of the other Party”. Provided that there is political will and additional study, this can be effective, in fact, we are talking about restoring the INF treaty with new clarifications – for example, regarding hypersonic blocks that Russia already has, but the United States does not.

Some progress can be made in the scope of Article 7. According to which “The Parties exclude the deployment of nuclear weapons outside the national territory and return such weapons already deployed outside the national territory at the time of entry into force of this Treaty to the national territory.

The Parties will eliminate all available infrastructure for the deployment of nuclear weapons outside the national territory,” and also “do not train military personnel and civilians from non-nuclear-weapon countries to use such weapons” and “do not conduct exercises and training of general-purpose forces, including testing scenarios with the use of nuclear weapons.”

The United States can opt, grudgingly, for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany (Russia does not have nuclear weapons located outside the national territory). It is also quite possible not to conduct combined-arms exercises involving the use of nuclear weapons, if there is political will, which may not be there.

Disastrous pluralism

In addition to the structurally distorted understanding of the world, in which there is simply no such thing as an equal partnership, the weak contractual capacity of the American side has objective reasons. The US political establishment is far from being homogeneous. Regarding dialogue with Russia, there are different opinions, up to complete polarity.

In addition to the confrontation between Democrats and Republicans, which complicates any national and political consensus, there are diametrically opposed views within the current administration of President Joe Biden – often taking paradoxical forms.

For example, the main “hawk” is now the Foreign Ministry and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who regularly releases certain statements that clearly do not contribute to a friendly atmosphere at the upcoming negotiations. Thus, on January 7, Blinken, commenting on the introduction of OSCE forces into Kazakhstan, which is facing the threat of terrorism, said: “One lesson from past history: when Russians are in your house, it can be difficult to force them to leave.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry rightly called such escapades “typical of Antony Blinken’s boorish manner” and advised the US Secretary of State to keep in mind another history lesson – “when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive, not to be robbed or raped.” The Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that “it is not the recent past that teaches this, but all 300 years of American statehood.”

Against the background of outright destruction by the State Department, the Pentagon generals, on the contrary, demonstrate peacefulness. On December 23, Voice of America reported that the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, had a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, the head of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Nikolay Gerasimov.

During the conversation, the parties discussed “regional security issues of concern,” said the press secretary of the Joint Committee, Colonel Dave Butler, and the telephone conversation itself “is a continuation of contact between the two leaders in order to reduce risks and eliminate conflict situations.”

In addition, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters that according to Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin, “there is no reason for it to come to a fight. There is no reason for this to escalate into a conflict”, and in relations with Russia “there is a large space for diplomacy and leadership” in order to de-escalate the situation.

The fact that the US military is much more inclined, at least in words, to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict with Russia is quite indicative. A significant number of civilian representatives of the Joe Biden administration – like Victoria Nuland, whose husband Robert Kagan is one of the ideological pillars of American neoconservatism, are not inclined to perceive Russia beyond the templates from the long-gone 90s, which means they are not particularly interested in equal dialogue.

The already mentioned Mark Milley, using the most diplomatic language, openly warned the American establishment that a fight against China or Russia, and even more so with two at once, is fraught with serious trouble.

However, writes David Pyne, deputy director of the US Congressional advisory group on new challenges and threats, “it is imperative that U.S. leaders recognise the increasing prospects of defeat in such conflicts so that they can better determine whether fighting losing wars against America’s nuclear superpower enemies and risking the lives of tens of millions of Americans and our nation’s very existence best serves U.S. national security interests”.

There is no such understanding at the moment, the researcher admits. And he quotes another expert, an expert political scientist from the RAND Corporation, Edward Geist.

“Unfortunately, U.S. strategy has not planned seriously for protracted near-peer conflict since the early Cold War… It is much more unpleasant to envision losing than winning — but this does nothing to change the fact that defeat is an increasingly plausible possibility in a war with Russia or China,” warns Geist.

In other words, up to this moment, not all political figures in the United States are aware of the real risks of the disastrous course that the “collective mind” of the American establishment stubbornly adheres to.

In general, it can be predicted that with significant reservations, Washington can accept no more than 20-25% of Russia’s proposals, and among the “approved” there will not be a single provision critically important for Russia’s security at this stage. So, based on the expert assessment of the situation and the professional approach of the American side, a serious breakthrough in the negotiations on the mutual security of Russia and the United States is extremely unlikely.

Based on the rhetoric of the Western media, where conciliatory sentiments are not read, as well as official statements by American officials, Russia will need arguments more accessible to the West. It is not to exclude that such arguments will be “military-technical measures”, which Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on December 21, speaking at an expanded meeting of the board of the Ministry of Defence.

“If the clearly aggressive line of our Western colleagues continues, we will take adequate military-technical response measures and react harshly to unfriendly steps,” the president said, without specifying what measures he had in mind. Apparently, the American side will be the first to learn about the list of these measures at the talks on January 10, in the event that other means of attracting Washington’s attention to Russian proposals on mutual security will be ineffective. Although the option of a subsequent demonstration of measures is not excluded either, if the degree of American deafness to Russian proposals is critically high. 

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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