Ahead of two crucial meetings this week, the United States and NATO allies are discussing a number of ways to deal with the deteriorating relations between Russia and the West, and the looming prospect of another Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Although the leaders of the United States and NATO have both expressed a strong desire for a diplomatic channel, more aggressive options to support Ukrainian sovereignty against Russian aggression, including major trade restrictions, are would have on the table.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has adopted an increasingly belligerent posture towards Europe and the West, especially in recent months. Among other actions, a growing number of Russian troops – around 100,000 at present, according to the New York Times – were stationed along the Russian-Ukrainian border, possibly in anticipation of a major offensive.
The Biden administration and the Kremlin are planned to discuss the US response to Russian military action in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, and a broader conversation between NATO member countries and Russia is scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium. Further discussions on Russia’s actions and proposed security requirements are also scheduled to take place in Vienna, Austria, with member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
After a virtual meeting on Friday of foreign ministers of its member states, NATO pledged a coherent response to protect Ukrainian sovereignty, and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted on Friday in a statement that the alliance has embarked on a diplomatic approach with Russia.
“Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe,” he said. “NATO remains committed to our two-pronged approach to Russia: strong deterrence and defense, combined with constructive dialogue. “
But if NATO’s current tactics – and next week’s talks – fail to deter Russia from acting against Ukraine, Stoltenberg has signaled that NATO is ready to pursue more aggressive options. Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO and therefore the alliance is not obligated to intervene if Russia attacks, Stoltenberg’s statements to the press show that he views Russia’s aggression as Ukraine as destabilizing European security; and that if this security were threatened, there would be consequences for Russia.
“We have troops, we have forces”, Stoltenberg told reporters on Friday, although he declined to discuss the details. “We have the preparation. We have plans to be able to defend, protect all allies, and we are constantly adapting, and also investing more now than we have for many years in modernizing our military capabilities to make sure we keep the peace in Europe.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned that the United States was “Prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression”, although it is not clear what form that response might take.
Sanctions are a clear course in the US-Russian foreign policy space, and other countries, including the UK, have indicated their willingness to increase economic pressure on Russia if upcoming talks fail. not a diplomatic outcome.
Senior American officials CNN’s Natasha Bertrand told that the United States is preparing economic blocs against Russia, which would drastically reduce the country’s ability to import goods like smartphones, airplanes and car parts, which would damage the Russian economy and put it in the company of Outcast nations like North Korea and Syria, which have tough trade restrictions.
As Alex Ward explained to Vox last year, previous sanctions have primarily targeted businesses, institutions and individuals. But large-scale trade sanctions, which are is currently under study, would impact Russia on a whole new level, preventing the importation of commons and technologies from the United States and partner countries.
The UK is also preparing to impose “high impact measures targeting the Russian financial sector and individuals” if Russia invades Ukraine, Reuters reported Thursday, and the European Union agreed in december work in tandem with the United States and the United Kingdom to impose its own sanctions.
Yet Russia has so far presented a still position, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov telling Russian state news agency RIA that the Kremlin “will not make any concessions under pressure and over threats that are constantly being made by Western participants in the talks to to come”.
Russia continues to deny that it plans to invade Ukraine and insists that Ukraine, NATO and the West are the aggressors in the current conflict, a position which is reflected in the security requirements Russia sent last month to NATO and US leaders. Among other things, Russia seeks to prevent Ukraine in particular, as well as other former Soviet republics like Georgia, from entering NATO – a stipulation that NATO leaders say will absolutely not fly. not.
Blinken also said on Sunday that the main Russian demands of its draft documents from last month are not on the table, although NBC report Friday suggests that the United States is considering downsizing forces in Eastern Europe.
The Biden administration has refuse that any reduction in troop deployments is being considered, but Blinken didn’t reject host Jake Tapper’s suggestion that repositioning heavy weapons in Poland, moving missiles or making modifications to military exercises could be bargaining chips when it appeared on CNN State of the Union Sunday.
In Monday’s talks, the Biden administration will probably reassure Russia that he does not plan to build missile systems in Ukraine, although he has defended the positioning of US missile systems in Romania and Poland. The administration has also promised NATO officials that it will not take unilateral decisions for the alliance, a diplomat from a NATO member state said. Politico said.
However, there might be place to negotiate on military exercises on both sides, the escalation of which has contributed to increasing tensions. NATO regularly organizes training exercises in the Baltic region and includes non-NATO states such as Sweden and Finland in these exercises, which Russia considers a threat; Russia, meanwhile, has conducted larger and more frequent exercises closer to NATO countries, and both countries have increased the frequency of nuclear-capable bomber sorties. near Ukraine.
Russian-Western relations at their lowest in decades
Relations between Russia and the West have been particularly controversial in recent months, as the Ukraine crisis reaches a tipping point. In addition, Moscow’s support for Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko in his quest to anger the EU by commuting between migrants from the Middle East and his country’s border with Poland, and the recent deployment Russian troops in Kazakhstan have only fueled tensions as Russia appears determined to cement its sphere. influence in the former Soviet states.
The public consensus among Western officials, including Blinken, is that while next week’s talks hold some possibilities, it is unclear how seriously Russia is approaching them at best, as is the Kremlin’s commitment to any reciprocity.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine and Russia agreed – but never fully implemented – a peace deal called the Minsk Accord. Since then, the continuing conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 14,000 lives, as Jen Kirby of Vox wrote in December, and has helped push Ukraine forward, especially under the president’s leadership. Volodymyr Zelensky, towards the West and NATO. Putin sees in this change the potential for Ukraine to join the alliance – and therefore a threat to Moscow.
Barring a full invasion of Ukraine, however, Putin’s desire to exercise his power and remind the West that it still has influence in the region could be another reason behind the accumulation of troops and a tactic to get the United States and NATO to negotiate with him. .
But the way forward is murky for Western powers and alliances. For example, it’s still unclear how tougher sanctions against Russia might play out, given that previous measures in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine have done little to deter Putin.
Moreover, while the new sanctions proposals would represent a major escalation in Western efforts to deter Putin, it is a gamble to imagine that these measures alone would be enough to deflect what appears to be a large and entrenched military build-up. under the direction of an authoritarian leader. whose motivations are undoubtedly much more existential than the simple acquisition of territory.
As Alexander Motyl, an expert on Soviet and post-Soviet politics at Rutgers University in Newark, told Kirby: “The problem is, we don’t know what Putin wants, and it really is. the essential.
The consequences of Russia’s actions are difficult to determine and implement, as Putin remains impenetrable, Motyl argued. “Is he testing? Is it intrusive? Does he teach the Ukrainians a lesson? We do not know. And so it’s hard to do anything, because we don’t know what [Putin] wants, and we don’t know how far he’s willing to go.