Russia-NATO Treaty: Washington’s last chance to save face

MOSCOW, 11 Jan 2022, RUSSTRAT Institute.

 

A week of negotiations between Russia and Washington, and then with the leadership of NATO and the OSCE, which began yesterday, January 9, may turn out to be a turning point for many processes that have been taking shape over the past 30 years. The order of negotiations fully corresponds to the degree of their importance – NATO follows Washington, and the OSCE closes the list of priorities of the Russian side.

Earlier in the material of RUSSTRAT, the issue of the distribution of real powers within NATO was touched upon. The United States accounts for about 80% of the military and financial resources available to the alliance, which makes Washington, in fact, the only negotiating party with which it makes sense to have dialogue.

It is difficult to expect greater results from negotiations with NATO as a counterparty than those achieved with the United States. And in this sense, it is logical that Russia will first hold talks with Washington, and only then the agreements reached can be clarified at the NATO level: it is simply pointless to discuss important issues with vassals without the consent of the suzerain.

However, such “shuttle” diplomacy has another motivation. The document that Russia is proposing to NATO for signing is in many fundamental points consonant with the draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on security guarantees submitted to Washington.

Individual paragraphs of the Russia-NATO document, at the same time, are much more specific and ambitious. Their inclusion in the Russia-NATO package, and not in the official Russia-USA agenda, may be a kind of diplomatic compliment to Washington: what, due to internal political reasons, the administration of US President Joe Biden cannot voice on its own behalf, it is possible to lower down the chain to NATO.

As in the case of negotiations with Washington, some of Russia’s proposals, apparently, can be accepted at the level of Brussels without much difficulty.

For example, it is difficult to expect problems with the theses mentioned in article 1 on the obligation “to refrain from any use of force or threat of its use in any way incompatible with the purposes of the United Nations” or “to exercise restraint in military planning and during exercises to reduce the risks of possible dangerous situations, adhering to obligations under international law, including those contained in intergovernmental agreements on the prevention of incidents at sea outside territorial waters and in the airspace above it, and also in intergovernmental agreements on the prevention of dangerous military activities.”

Concepts such as “restraint” or “dangerous military activity” do not have clear criteria, which means they will include (or not include) a wide range of actions. The real deterrence potential of such provisions is small, precisely because they can be interpreted subjectively. Conflicts may arise with the discussion of the thesis about the obligation of the parties to the transaction “not to create conditions or situations that could pose or be regarded as a threat to the national security of other Participants.”

There is no doubt that NATO representatives will try to include as many entities as possible in the list of such threats – from strengthening the military potential of the Black Sea Fleet within the national territory of Russia, to “Iskander” near Kaliningrad and the development of new weapons systems, primarily hypersonic, by Russia in general.

Article 2 looks completely acceptable to all parties – due to its maximum streamlining. It involves the use of urgent consultation mechanisms on a bilateral and multilateral basis, including the NATO-Russia Council, to resolve issues and resolve problematic situations. The parties also regularly exchange assessments of modern threats and security challenges, provide mutual information about military exercises and manoeuvres, the main provisions of military doctrine – which, frankly, can be obtained by anyone using the Internet.

The creation of “hot” telephone lines to maintain emergency contact between the parties to the agreement is also unlikely to cause difficulties.

Some progress can be made with Article 4. In it, as in the document addressed to Washington, the parties to the treaty undertake to return to the INF treaty.

Most likely, this is where the “space of the most likely consent of the parties” ends. Since the remaining articles of the document proposed by Russia, in fact, imply a change in the entire concept of NATO.

Nothing military nearby

Created to confront the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries, NATO after 1991 harmoniously switched to the fight against Russia. In the most recent speech, on January 7, 2022, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke about the “aggression of Russia” immediately after congratulating the audience on the New Year.

The main efforts of the main player of NATO – the United States – in the coming years will increasingly focus on the work of the AUKUS bloc in the direction of China, which in itself implies an existential crisis of NATO. The adoption of the articles of the treaty proposed by Russia may be the last nail in the coffin of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Thus, Article 3 of the draft agreement provides that the participants officially refuse to consider each other as opponents. From a terminological point of view, this state of affairs has existed since May 27, 1997, when the Founding Act on Relations between Russia and NATO was signed. In practice, as we know, this has had little effect on anything. In addition to the waves of NATO expansion, the alliance has deployed strike weapons – or the infrastructure for their rapid deployment – in close proximity to Russia’s borders.

There are a sufficient number of synonyms for the term “enemy” in NATO documents, such as “destabilisation factor”, “threat” or “competitor”. And this means that the refusal to consider Russia as a rival of NATO should be accompanied by sufficient measures so that this refusal manifests itself at the level of military infrastructure, and not declarative documents. As far as NATO is ready to do this now, the answer is probably negative.

It is unclear who, in the case of a practical rejection of the confrontation with Russia, should be considered an opponent of NATO. This question will inevitably lead to another – why do we need NATO at all if it has no opponents demanding a structure of this format? The way out could be international terrorism, but as the events in Iraq and, especially, Afghanistan have shown, NATO did not have much effectiveness in these cases either.

Article 4 says that NATO will have to fill the Fundamental Act of 25 years ago with practical content. Under which Russia and former NATO members, as of May 27, 1997, countries “do not deploy their armed forces and weapons on the territory of all other European states in addition to the forces stationed on this territory as of May 27, 1997.”

In fact, this article suggests that NATO should conduct an audit of what has changed in terms of military infrastructure in the EU over the past quarter of a century – and return everything to its original state. The probability that NATO will be able to accept such a condition looks extremely small.

Even before the negotiations, the extremely violent reaction of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was caused by Article 6, obliging the alliance to stop the process of its expansion, specifically stipulating the inadmissibility of Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO. On December 21, 2021, at a press conference in Brussels with Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă, Stoltenberg categorically rejected “a compromise on Ukraine’s right to choose its own path and apply for membership in the North Atlantic Alliance”.

NATO has not yet found anything that it can use to answer publicly to Article 7. According to it, NATO member states “refuse to conduct any military activity on the territory of Ukraine, as well as other states of Eastern Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asia.”

In addition, “in order to avoid incidents,” Russia and NATO do not conduct military activities above the brigade level “in a strip of agreed width and disposition on each side of the border line of the Russian Federation and the states that are in a military alliance with it, as well as Participants who are member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.”

The “width and disposition” of the strip referred to in the Russian proposal has not been announced. It can be assumed – based on the fact that in the United States, Russian troops near Yelnya in the Smolensk region are described as being “in close proximity” to Ukraine – the disengagement distance should be calculated at least several hundred kilometres.

Thus, the entire Baltic states, a third of Poland, a fair part of Ukraine, as well as the Scandinavian countries fall into the demilitarised zone especially and additionally. In the part of Asia adjacent to the borders of Russia, as far as we know, NATO has not yet claimed exercises of the described scale.

Agreement, albeit in a metered form, to such demands will require maximum ideological revision – not even from NATO, but from the collective West. Therefore, a voluntary willingness to accept such conditions by Brussels looks like an extremely unlikely event.

Forced withdrawal

What’s most important, taking into account the above, is the categorical position of Moscow. It is this categoricality that has been dubbed an “ultimatum” in the Western media, although in fact the ultimatum of the situation consists only in the fact that Russia simply has no boundaries left to which it can retreat. In particular, the Head of State spoke about this at the annual expanded meeting of the Board of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation on December 21, 2021.

“But what they are doing now on the territory of Ukraine or are trying to do and plan to do, it’s not thousands of kilometres from our national border – it’s on the threshold of our house. They should understand that we simply have nowhere to retreat further,” Vladimir Putin stressed.

This line has been repeatedly confirmed by the Russian Foreign Ministry, including through the mouth of the deputy head of the department, Sergey Ryabkov. On January 9, in an interview with RIA Novosti, the diplomat once again stressed that Moscow does not intend to make “any concessions” and intends to categorically demand “the elimination of everything that the alliance has created, driven by anti-Russian phobias and various kinds of false ideas about what the essence of Russian policy has been since 1997”.

That is, the Russian negotiating position is for NATO to begin its partial dismantling. Guarantees, even legal ones, “further non-expansion” can no longer satisfy us.

The reality of the treaty with NATO is completely dependent on the actual position of Washington. A number of provisions proposed by Russia obviously look difficult, not only for implementation, but even for the awareness of NATO as a whole and its particularly odious members in particular.

Speaking about the measures that Russia will be forced to take if its concerns are not taken seriously, Vladimir Putin mentioned a certain set of military-technical solutions. He did without specifics, but such solutions obviously exist – and can be used in the shortest possible time.

It is unlikely that Washington, against the background of the officially announced strategic competition with China, is interested in creating new vulnerabilities for itself. The fact that Russia is able to create such vulnerabilities for any potential enemy is clearly demonstrated by “Avangard”, “Tsirkon”, “Poseidon” and other weapons systems that give the Russian army a qualitative superiority over similar NATO structures.

The question is to what extent the divided political elite of the United States is able to realise its own interest in de-escalation and put this awareness into practice.

Oddly enough, the “irreconcilable” position of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who constantly links the “security of Ukraine” with the Russia-NATO dialogue, looks like a positive signal and an attempt to save face. Between the lines, you can see the message: if Russia somehow “guarantees” the military security of the Kiev regime, then NATO will have a reason to make concessions.

What exactly such “concessions” will consist of depends on the final results of negotiations with Washington on January 9-10, 2022.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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