Negotiations between the US and Russia: there is minimal progress

Kamran Hasanov, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Negotiations between the US and Russia: there is minimal progress

The year 2022 begins with the events of global importance. There are three large-scale meetings: on January 10 in Geneva between representatives of Russia and the United States, on January 12 in Brussels between the Russian Federation and NATO, and on January 13 in Vienna at the OSCE site. The hierarchy of negotiations was not chosen by chance. The key player in the Western camp is the United States, and discussions in Brussels and the OSCE are needed to hear the views of Washington's NATO and European allies.

The essence of all these diplomatic negotiations is the discussion of the Russian Foreign Ministry's proposals on security guarantees put forward in December. According to two documents sent to Washington and Brussels, Russia seeks NATO's non-expansion to post-Soviet countries (primarily Georgia and Ukraine) and the US's refusal to deploy military infrastructure in them. 

At the moment, the first stage of this global diplomacy has been completed. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman held talks in Geneva. According to Ryabkov, the conversation turned out to be "long and complicated", "without any attempts to embellish something, to avoid sharp corners."

At the same time, as many experts in Russia and the United States expected, no progress has been made yet. The State Department did not find understanding of the most fundamental issue for the Russian Federation's security about non-expansion of NATO. Sherman made it clear that Moscow could not dictate to Washington and NATO how to conduct their policies, and that the US would not decide the fate of Ukraine, Europe, and NATO without their involvement.

The second key issue for Russia is the non-deployment of NATO strike weapons near Russia. The US has been more flexible on this issue, although no precise guarantees have been provided yet. The United States side is ready to discuss the future of some missile systems and has hinted at the revival of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The third important moment for both Russia and the United States is considered to be "muscle flexing". NATO periodically conducts large-scale military exercises near Russian borders, Moscow responds in the same way. In December 2021, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained that the number of US and NATO flights near Russian borders "more than doubled", and they are increasingly using "strategic aviation" to practice mock nuclear missile launches at Russian targets.

Unlike the two previous points, here the positions of Moscow and Washington are close. Sherman announced her country's readiness to discuss limiting military exercises. She called on Russia to begin de-escalation on the border with Ukraine, noting that up to 100,000 Russian troops are concentrated here. To this, Ryabkov noted that the Russian side had assured US colleagues that there were no plans to "attack Ukraine." But Sherman believes that there is no direct response from Russia, stressing that instead of declaring intentions, it is better for Moscow to keep the 100,000-strong contingent away from Ukraine’s borders.

The intermediate outcome of the negotiations is that the doors of diplomacy are still open. There is a common understanding of the dangers of military exercises and an intention to re-establish the INF Treaty. The non-expansion of NATO and the refusal of Ukraine's membership there, even hypothetically, are unacceptable for Washington.

The officials themselves assessed the results as follows. Ryabkov said that Moscow needed an "urgent" response and "a real NATO step towards Russia". Sherman awaits consultations with Europe’s allies, after which it will become clear whether there is any point in continuing negotiations with Russia.

It should be noted that experts on both sides of the ocean saw a lot of positive things in Sherman's meetings with Ryabkov. Thus, the Russian historian Sergey Stankevich considers the very fact of negotiations a success, pointing out that real agreements take time.

'It is too early to sum up the results of the consultations between Russia and the United States, which began in Geneva. There was only an exchange of claims, demands and warnings. Starting positions were announced. This in itself is already important, because for the first time in 30 years the parties have the opportunity to listen to each other in such detail, compare and clarify in detail the arguments and motivations", he wrote on Facebook.

Stankevich fully admits that, behind closed doors, the Americans can verbally give Russia a guarantee that Ukraine will not be included in NATO. It is difficult for the United States to do this documentarily, because they risk losing face in front of their allies.

"The United States individually can go far enough. For example, to declare that Washington will not discuss any NATO expansion at all for at least 10 years (maybe more). It is also quite possible to assert that there will be no new American missiles in Europe, no new bases (including under the guise of training or logistics centers) no military activity of the alliance in Ukraine, and there will be no too disturbing military exercises...Historians and experienced diplomats know how many important agreements and epoch-making turns in history were fixed non-publicly in the form of "practical understanding", he stressed.

American analysts Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon also allow compromises. First of all, in matters of exercises and the INF Treaty. The United States and Russia need "transparency in military exercises", that is, early warning of ongoing exercises or mutual restrictions on the deployment of troops, as well as the restoration of the INF Treaty, they write. These steps, according to political analysts, would help buy time to resolve a more complex issue - NATO expansion. NATO may establish a moratorium on the admission of Ukraine and Georgia to the Alliance for the coming decades. However, this will require long and complex negotiations, as well as the willingness of the parties to compromise.

We will find out very soon, whether it is possible to develop the minimal progress achieved between Ryabkov and Sherman. Russia-NATO negotiations, starting tomorrow, will be another important stage for removing the global confrontation between the West and the East.