By Alexander Miller, for Eurasia Business News – December 23, 2021

The U.S. expects to begin negotiations with Russia on security guarantees in January, but they are not yet ready to specify the exact date, said U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan. Russia asked in December 17 for a bilateral agreement over security guarantees in Europe. Moscow feels threatened as the U.S. builds up the military capacities of Ukraine, after using Romania since 2015 and Poland since 2018 for anti-missile defense systems Aegis Ashore.

Washington invokes international law and freedom of countries to choose military alliances, while Moscow invokes the right of security and the guarantee of no foreign military infrastructure on its borders with former Soviet republics. The peak of tensions was in 2014, amid the Ukrainian crisis, the Donbass war and the Crimea issue.

Today I am not ready to tell you a specific date or place (of the negotiations). I know that in Brussels and elsewhere, we are holding discussions on what our approach should be, whether it be within the framework of a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council either at the OSCE site, or within the framework of the ongoing Dialogue on Strategic Stability you mentioned” said the U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan in an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant, answering a question about whether negotiations on security guarantees could be held in early January.

As Ambassador Sullivan noted, U.S. President Joe Biden had previously initiated a number of formats of dialogue with the Russian side at the bilateral level.

We have these mechanisms. Dialogue on strategic stability for bilateral discussions between the United States and Russia. The Russia-NATO Council. And an even wider forum – the OSCE, which includes Ukraine, which is important” stressed the head of the American diplomatic mission in Russia.

According to Ambassador Sullivan, “U.S. Secretary of State (Anthony) Blinken said that we are not going to conduct negotiations concerning the security of Ukraine, in which Ukraine itself would not be represented.

This point creates strong difficulties about the outcome of negotiations. The issue of relationship with Russia is very risky in the Ukrainan political stage and the Ukraine’s president Zelensky is facing growing opposition. There is few chance that he would engage in constructive dialogue over dispute with Russia.

John Sullivan added that “Likewise, the United States does not intend to conduct discussions about the security of our NATO allies without their participation.”

Thus, we have an architecture, formats for conducting these discussions. There are three of them: the Russia-NATO Council, the OSCE and our bilateral consultations with the Russian government. I hope and expect that – especially considering the situation in Donbass and on the Russian-Ukrainian border – there will be meetings in January. But today, December 23, I am not ready to tell you a date, or a place or places where they can take place” concluded the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned during an official meeting on December 21 with high-ranking generals of the Russian armed forces about the risk of U.S. installing hypersonic missiles in Ukraine, weapons that could hit Moscow in few minutes :

“We are extremely concerned that elements of the US global missile defence system are being deployed next to Russia. […] “What the US is doing in Ukraine is on our doorstep and they must understand that we simply have nowhere to retreat further.”

Russian President had previously compared the scenario to Russia deploying missiles to Canada or Mexico. If now the U.S. is behind Russia about the development of hypersonic missiles (Russia has developed the hypersonic missile Avangard), there is no doubt that Washington will succeed in the near future to build and deploy such new weapons. Russian security elite is worried about the threat of American hypersonic missiles that would be deployed in Ukraine. Defense systems to counter hypersonic missiles don’t exist so far.

U.S. Army general and chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said in his March 4, 2020 testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that “There is no defense against hypersonic.

Russia wants the withdrawal of all NATO military infrastructure in Europe to the position of 1997, at the time of the conclusion of the Russia-NATO Founding Act, said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on December 17.

I had to take maps in order to mark with flags and circles all those objects that have appeared near our borders in recent years, and draw arrows where who flies, on what planes, and which ships pass,” said the Russian official at a briefing on Friday, answering the question of what exactly Moscow is calling for the Western alliance to abandon, speaking of the need to return to the 1997 position.

According to the Russian deputy minister, “our position is that we need to remove all this and return to the 1997 positions.”

The United States is ready for talks with Russia on European security, but expects from them both progress on some issues and disagreements on others, said the U.S. President’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on December 17.

We are ready for a dialogue with Russia, we have had a dialogue with Russia on European security issues over the past 20 years, and before that we have had it for decades with the Soviet Union,” Sullivan said during a briefing at the Council on Foreign Relations.

We can make progress in some areas, but in other areas we will have to disagree with something – this is the nature of the dialogue,” stressed the U.S. official.

Jake Sullivan added that the U.S. will first coordinate with its allies to form a cohesive alliance, and then prepare to begin negotiations with Russia.

Earlier, U.S. under secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland announced on December 16 the U.S. readiness to discuss issues with Russia at the NATO negotiating platform or in the OSCE format. 

In talks with European Tought Leaders, she said that “the stakes here are enormous.  This is obviously about the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an independent nation, Ukraine, to make its own choices about its own security future without aggression and without pressure.  It is about NATO’s right to make its own decisions.

At the same time, the U.S. diplomat has accused the Russian Federation of blocking efforts to resolve the situation in Ukraine within the framework of the Normandy format. She also mentioned that if, in parallel with this format, the U.S. efforts were useful, then Washington “would be happy to support them.

Victoria Nuland is well-known for years for her support to Ukraine and her tough position about Russia. The wife of the neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan traveled to Moscow last October for three days of high-profile bilateral talks with senior Russian officials. She met with a variety of senior officials, including presidential aide Yury Ushakov, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, and President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Dmitry Kozak.

On December 19, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said that NATO considers unacceptable the Russia’s proposal to legally guarantee that Ukraine will not join the Western military alliance. At the same time, NATO is going to discuss Russia’s proposals on security guarantees.

I have made it clear that we must seek a solution to the tense situation in which we find ourselves, both at the diplomatic level and through credible deterrence. It also means talking to each other, that is, discussing the proposals made by Russia. This is important and correct, but it should not be so that Russia dictates to NATO partners how to behave. This should be clear and we will state it clearly in these negotiations. Next week in the NATO Council we will discuss these proposals, ”said Ms. Lambrecht during her visit to Lithuania.

Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister of Latvia Andrzej Vilumsons said that meeting Moscow’s requirements for security guarantees is impossible, since meeting the requirement to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO “would violate all agreements of the 20th century.”

The head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, believes that Brussels should participate in any discussion on the architecture of European security. In his opinion, the EU should negotiate a project on security guarantees proposed by Russia. However, the hard truth is that the EU is not a geopolitical power and that Russia will only negotiate with the U.S., the leading power within NATO.

The head of EU diplomacy noted that the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the Charter of Paris of 1990 offered “key principles” on which European security has been built over the past 50 years. The OSCE proposes mechanisms that “remain the cornerstone of any engagement with Russia.” However, Western countries have met difficulties to dialogue with Russia within the OSCE.

On December 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a draft proposal of agreement with the United States and NATO on security guarantees. The Russian Federation wants to legally formalize the refusal to admit to NATO “states that were previously part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin talked about NATO and Ukraine during a press conference on December 23, at which he answered questions from journalists. The event took place in the Manezh hall near the Kremlin and was attended by 507 media representatives. The Russian leader lamented that “NATO is deploying new types of weapons near the borders of the Russian Federation.” Vladimir Putin then stressed that “NATO’s further eastward movement is unacceptable” and asked “how the United States would feel if Russia deployed its missile on the border between Mexico and the United States.”

Several crises have deteriorated the relationship between Russia and the United States since 2008. After Georgia in 2008, Syria in 2011-2018 and Ukraine since 2014, the Belarus crisis since August 2020 added pressure to the geopolitical confrontation between Washington and Moscow in Europe. Russia decided to increase economic and security support to Belarus. The Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko even announced on December 18 its readiness to accept from Russia the deployment of nuclear weapons on its territory if NATO places nuclear weapons in Poland.

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin met for the first time on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland. Their foreign ministers also attended the meeting. This was the first Russia-US summit since July 2018, when Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki, Finland.

Both leaders tried in Geneva to launch a beginning of constructive dialogue, above a sea of disagreements. The concrete results of their discussions remained modest but they have agreed to relaunch their negotiations on strategic nuclear stability. They discussed the following issues : strategic stability, cybersecurity, regional conflicts, trade relations, cooperation in the Arctic, human rights. Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden also agreed on the return of ambassadors to the capitals of the two countries. But today, tensions are high with the Ukraine strategic status in background. Russia feels unsecure with NATO expanding in Eastern Europe since 1997. U.S. leaders will have no choice but to use diplomacy to convince Moscow that there is no threat. Otherwise, Russia made the pledge to take countermeasures. China would also take advantage of a direct confrontation between America and Russia in Europe. The coming weeks will be decisive.

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