As the West looks for ways to defuse tensions amid a massive Russian military build-up around Ukraine, the Kremlin continues to raise the stakes.
On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry published a pair of what it called “draft agreements” – one between Russia and the United States, the other between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – that set out its demands for ending a crisis that Russia created by amassing military might near its borders with Ukraine for the second time this year. But while U.S. President Joe Biden has signalled his willingness to listen to Moscow’s security concerns regarding the expansion of the NATO military alliance, the proposed treaties contain clauses that seem impossible for Mr. Biden and other NATO leaders to agree to.
Delivered before any formal talks between the Kremlin and its adversaries, at a time when Russia has an estimated 100,000 troops – in addition to 1,200 tanks and 330 warplanes – within range of Ukrainian territory, the documents read more like a list of ransom demands than a genuine negotiating position.
Both documents were reportedly delivered Wednesday to Karen Donfried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, during her visit to Moscow.
What Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks is made clearest in the draft agreement between Russia and NATO, where the Kremlin – as it has attempted to in the past – stakes out a clear “sphere of influence” encompassing the territory of the former Soviet Union. Under the terms of the proposal, NATO members “shall not conduct any military activity on the territory of Ukraine as well as other states in the Eastern Europe, in the South Caucasus and in Central Asia.”
It’s a demand that would require Canada, the U.S. and Britain to withdraw the troops they currently have stationed in Ukraine on training missions. Canada’s 200-soldier Operation Unifier, as it’s known, was established to help train the Ukrainian military following Russia’s 2014 seizure and annexation of Crimea. Russia also backs a “separatist” militia that took over part of the southeastern Donbas region of Ukraine, sparking more than seven years of fighting that killed upwards of 13,000 people.
Neither of the Russia-U.S. and Russia-NATO documents contains any proposals that would resolve the fighting in Donbas. Crimea also goes unmentioned in both papers.
A separate clause in the proposed Russia-NATO treaty would see the alliance’s pre-1997 members withdraw their forces from the territories of the countries of Eastern Europe that joined after 1997.
In effect, the treaty would require that NATO’s most powerful members desert allies that joined the alliance following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR. Canada would be forced to pull back a 540-soldier mission stationed in Latvia, where it heads a forward battle group that was deployed as fears rose among Russia’s neighbours following the annexation of Crimea.
The U.S., Germany and Britain lead similar “enhanced forward presence” battle groups stationed in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, all of which share borders with Russia.
The draft agreement between Russia and the U.S. reiterates Moscow’s long-standing demand that the U.S. “undertake to prevent further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization” and to specifically guarantee that no former Soviet republics would be invited to join NATO. The language appears to specifically target Ukraine and Georgia, two former Soviet republics that have sought NATO membership since 2008.
Russia has long complained about the expansion of NATO toward its borders. The alliance invited former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join in 1999, and then expanded again in 2004 to bring in seven more Eastern European countries, including the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
More recently, Moscow has been angered by Ukraine’s determination to join the alliance, and by the presence of NATO troops on Ukrainian soil. In a July essay, Mr. Putin argued that Russians and Ukrainians are a “single people” divided by history and that “true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.”
Russia has been deploying its military close to Ukraine's border, with videos shared online showing trains transporting armoured vehicles and convoys of military trucks. Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and supports separatists in Ukraine's east, while Ukraine is an aspiring NATO member.
The Globe and Mail
The Russia-U.S. document also contains broadly worded language that would seem to preclude the U.S. from stationing any military forces anywhere near Russia’s borders – including on the territory of NATO alliance members – without Moscow’s consent. Russia, meanwhile, would be allowed to continue positioning its forces along its borders with Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of whom sought NATO membership partly out of historic distrust toward Russia.
The immediate response from the White House was predictably negative. A senior Biden administration official told Reuters that the U.S. was prepared to discuss Russia’s proposals but said: “There are some things in those documents that the Russians know are unacceptable.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Washington would consult with its allies about how to respond. “We will not compromise the key principles on which European security is built, including that all countries have the right to decide their own future and foreign policy, free from outside interference,” she said.
While the documents are almost certain not to win support from the U.S. or NATO, the message from Moscow on Friday was that the proposals were a take-it-or-leave-it offer. “Those two texts are not a menu from which one can pick and choose this or that. They are complementary and must be considered as a whole,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said.
Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre think tank, wrote on Twitter that the Russian foreign ministry had published its proposals before any negotiations had taken place because the Kremlin likely knew its vision for regional security would not be accepted by the West. “This logically means that Russia will have to assure its security single-handedly, most probably by military-technical means.”
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