МОСКВА, 17 декабря 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.
On December 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden held videoconference talks. Experts’ assessments of these negotiations vary greatly – from extremely positive to neutral. To understand the situation, I suggest that you restore the chronology of events, and then return to the main question of the article.
Just minutes after the two presidents’ talks ended, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland testified in the US Senate on international relations between the United States and Russia. During the speech, Nuland reported on the concerns of the American side about the build-up of Russian armed forces on the border with Ukraine.
She pointed out that Joe Biden warned the Russian president that in the event of aggression, unlike in 2014, «isolating sanctions» would be imposed on Russia. She did not delve into their essence, as she had previously voiced them in detail at a secret briefing for congressmen.
However, 15 minutes later, when this issue was raised again, Nuland clarified that it was planned to isolate Russia from the global financial system, with all the ensuing consequences for Russian businesses and the population, their ability to trade and travel, and the United States «has the full range of sanctions on the table”.
Regarding the sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Nuland made a reference to the agreements between the United States and Germany, under which Germany promised to stop the operation of the gas pipeline in the event of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Thus, we can once again note that the absence of sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and its further operation is a matter of US-German relations, and not at all a US step towards Russia, as some experts are trying to imagine.
One congressman asked Nuland if Russia could concentrate its armed forces for a different purpose than invading Ukraine. To this, Nuland replied that Russian President Vladimir Putin regrets the collapse of the USSR and recently wrote about Ukraine as an integral part of Russia’s heritage, so he seeks to recreate the USSR, and the American side does not yet know «whether Putin will be satisfied only with Ukraine”. Nuland repeated this point repeatedly during her speech, leaving no doubt that Russia wants to absorb Ukraine.
At the same time, in the course of answering questions from congressmen, Nuland explained that the United States excludes the possibility of its military response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, despite the fact that this may send a negative signal to China on Taiwan.
Congressman Mark Rubio asked Nuland if the United States would agree to Russia’s earlier requests to remove NATO troops from Russia’s western borders, exclude Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO, and stop arming Ukraine, all of which Nuland called unequivocally unacceptable demands. According to Nuland, the question of who can join NATO is decided only by NATO members.
Rubio also expressed concern about the situation inside Ukraine, as some politicians and oligarchs are threatening Ukrainian President Zelensky. To this, Nuland explained that the United States gives clear signals that in the current conditions of informational “traps of the Kremlin», Ukrainian patriots should remain united. Nuland called democracy a new sport in Ukraine, so politicians play it rather crudely, but now there is a reason to rally.
Thus, from this we can conclude that while the United States will make Ukraine an element of political pressure on Russia, they will support Zelensky in his internal political struggle and a new Maidan will not happen, although many in Ukraine expect it due to difficulties with heating in the autumn-winter period.
As for the issues of strategic stability between the United States and Russia, according to Nuland, their discussion began in connection with Russia’s modernisation of its nuclear potential and the development of hypersonic weapons. That is why the two Presidents held talks in Geneva this summer. At the moment, two rounds of «strategic stability talks» have already been held, and Nuland did not delve into their results.
Some time after the hearing of Victoria Nuland, National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan gave a press conference at the White House following the talks between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.
Sullivan also stressed that Biden directly told Putin that if Russia invades Ukraine, the United States and its European allies will respond with decisive economic measures. In addition, in this case, the United States will provide the Ukrainians with additional defensive equipment and strengthen their allies on the eastern flank of NATO.
However, the Russian president has another strategy option — de-escalation and diplomacy, which has worked for the last 70 years. The United States and its European allies are ready to engage in a discussion that covers broader strategic issues with Russia and issues directly related to Russia.
In addition, Sullivan said that the United States is ready to support efforts to advance the Minsk Agreements in support of the Normandy format, which may include a cease-fire and other confidence-building measures that will help move the process forward.
Immediately after meeting with the Russian president, Biden spoke with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Britain to consult on further actions.
In general, the rest of Sullivan’s statements were in the same spirit as Victoria Nuland’s. Sullivan said that Biden did not take on any obligations to limit Ukraine’s entry into NATO. According to him, Biden is of the opinion that countries should be able to freely choose with whom they should unite.
A stir was caused by Biden’s statement given to reporters on the helipad in Washington on December 8. Biden said the United States and some of its NATO allies may hold a meeting with Russia aimed at de-escalating tensions over Ukraine, where they will address the Russian president’s concerns about NATO.
Biden explained that by December 10, a meeting of “at least four major NATO allies” will be announced, where they will discuss Putin’s problems with the alliance as a whole and the possibility of working out any compromises to reduce tensions.
The Financial Times immediately came out with an article titled «Joe Biden makes a diplomatic concession to Russia with NATO talks plan«. The publication warned that such a proposal would be met with hostility by many NATO members, despite the fact that Putin has previously expressed his thoughts on this issue and now said: «We are working on the assumption that our concerns will be heard, at least this time”.
One senior official from an eastern NATO state told the Financial Times that “under no circumstances should negotiations on guarantees be allowed to unfold in the context of European security”.
This news caused a furious reaction from Eastern European countries, according to Bloomberg, a diplomat from one of these countries demanded an immediate explanation of what exactly the US president planned. Another diplomat said that Russia’s concessions in terms of political guarantees and restrictions on the freedom of movement of NATO forces may affect their combat capability.
“‘Russia should under no circumstances be given a say in who may or may not be a member of NATO,’ Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said at a news conference on Thursday. Moscow’s ‘most worrying wish is to divide Europe into spheres of influence. We remember these kinds of moments from our own history and we are in no way naive on this issue’.”
White House First Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was forced to explain that «the president told Putin in his address: one nation cannot force another nation to change its border, one nation cannot order another to change its policies, and nations cannot tell others who they can work with, who they can’t work with.”
Negotiations with Russia are part of a two-pronged NATO policy towards the country, based on deterrence and dialogue, a NATO official told Bloomberg. Any decision on future membership is a decision that only 30 members of the alliance should make, the official said, adding that consultations are underway between them.
On December 9, during a briefing, State Department Spokesman Ned Price was asked about the negotiations about Russia’s concerns about Ukraine’s accession to NATO, which could be perceived as a concession. Price immediately made a reservation that he did not use this wording.
«These aren’t negotiations. These are not negotiations about the fate, about the borders of any country. We’ve talked a lot about Ukraine, but the broader point is this: In some ways, it’s even bigger than Ukraine, because what Vladimir Putin seeks to do is to rewrite the rules of the international order, is to circumvent the idea that small countries can’t bully – large countries can’t bully small countries – that a country can, at the barrel of a gun, redraw borders,” Price explained.
«If the Russian Federation is under any false impression, if the Russian Federation does not have an understanding of what NATO is, what it is, what it seeks to do, what it does not seek to do, dialogue can help in this. What this is not is an attempt to discuss borders, to discuss Ukraine without Ukraine. We are not going to do anything with Ukraine without Ukraine, our partner, » Price said.
Indeed, on the same day, Biden held a conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky and the leaders of the Bucharest Nine, where the parties «discussed Russia’s destabilising military buildup along Ukraine’s border and the need for a united, ready, and resolute NATO stance for the collective defence of Allies,” according to the White House website.
On December 10, despite Biden’s promises, no one mentioned the negotiations between the United States, Russia and a number of NATO countries. On December 11, Biden once again mentioned that the United States would not send its military to Ukraine in the event of an escalation of the situation, but did not say anything about the failed negotiations. The White House and the US State Department do not have such talks in their immediate plans.
On December 12, in an interview with NBC, the head of the State Department, Antony Blinken, boasted that the «Big Seven“ issued a single statement warning Russia of serious consequences in the event of an invasion of Ukraine. Blinken also argued that while past efforts to exclude Russia from the G8, various sanctions and import restrictions, expulsions of diplomats, asset seizures, and cybercrime charges may have done little to stop Russia, the Russian president would have done even more damage if not for these efforts.
Blinken stressed that US President Biden is ready to do more. “What the president made very clear to President Putin, what I’ve made very clear to Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov — my counterpart — is that we are looking at and we are prepared to take the kinds of steps we’ve refrained from taking in the past that would have massive consequences for Russia,» Blinken said.
The head of the State Department said that Russia’s actions were and remain unacceptable to the United States. “One country can’t exert a sphere of influence over others. That’s what Russia is purporting to assert. And if we let that go with impunity, then the entire system that provides for stability, prevents war from breaking out, is in danger. That’s why this is so important.»
Summing up the statements of American officials after the talks between the presidents of Russia and the United States on December 7, we can note the following.
A clan struggle is being waged within the American government, and Biden is no longer fully determining the domestic and foreign policy course of the United States. This makes him similar to Trump, who also did not have 100% control over his apparatus. This confirms the version expressed in the previous article that the information campaign about Russia’s «aggressive actions» against Ukraine, which originated in the depths of the Democratic party, was launched in the liberal media at the end of October, and then supported by US State Department officials at the highest level.
Thus, the State Department sabotaged the White House administration’s efforts to establish contact with the Kremlin and take into account Russia’s objective interests in the international arena.
Apparently, planning to send Europe to «strategic autonomy» and free up forces to confront China, the State Department wants to rally European allies to the «Russian threat» by intimidating them, and therefore uses Ukraine as an excuse to escalate the situation. Moreover, for such an official as Victoria Nuland, this is already a familiar tool of influence.
The current situation around Biden’s controversial proposal for negotiations between the United States, Russia and a number of NATO countries is becoming a characteristic marker of the United States’ ability to negotiate. The Russian president is fully aware of this the situation inside the ruling political elites of the United States: «Sometimes it seems that various political forces in the same US simply compete with each other, showing their anti-Russian attitude, and thus earn domestic political points. Just fighting among themselves. There is nothing good in this, and what is interesting is that I don’t see how they can get out of this spiral, although, of course, they will have to do it, they will just have to because of the peculiar development of the situation in the world.»
In such circumstances, it is no coincidence that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov spoke about the possibility of a repeat of the «Caribbean crisis»:
«There is nothing left in the American foreign policy toolkit in relation to Russia but blackmail, threats and sanctions, but this is not the language that we perceive. We need to be firm, and that’s what’s happening now.» He also spoke about the «grave consequences» for NATO if the bloc expands to the East.
In turn, the head of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, has already warned about the readiness to stop provocations in Donbass. This clearly shows that Moscow understands the illusory nature of American red lines in the new geopolitical environment and is ready to defend its national interests using the full range of available opportunities.