GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 607, 15 January 2022

Russia and the West: Diplomatic efforts fail to make a breakthrough on Ukraine and other issues
Joeana Cera Matthews

What happened?
On 10 January, the US Deputy Secretary of State (Wendy Sherman) and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister (Sergei Ryabkov) met in Geneva under the Strategic Security Dialogue initiative. Sherman said following the meeting: "We were firm in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters for the United States… We will not allow anyone to slam close Nato's open door policy."

On 12 January, the Russian delegation led by Ryabkov met with NATO in Brussels. The alliance's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg commented on the talks: "Our differences will not be easy to bridge but it is a positive sign that all Nato allies and Russia sat down around the same table and engaged on substantive topics… There is a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe."

On 13 January, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened a meeting in Vienna to discuss the escalation along the Ukrainian border. Poland holds the 2022 chairmanship of the organization; its Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau warned: "It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years." On the same day, Ukrainian Foreign Minister (Dmytro Kuleba) released a statement, that read: "Despite the unsatisfactory week of great diplomacy for Russia, I believe that the only way for the Russians to confirm their lack of intention to solve problems by force is to continue the discussion in the established formats, in particular in the OSCE."

Following the three meetings held during the week, Ryabkov stated: "Russia is a peace-loving country. But we do not need peace at any cost. The need to obtain these legally formalized security guarantees for us is unconditional." Meanwhile, the Russian ambassador to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich expressed: "At this stage it is really disappointing."

What is the background?
First, the Geneva Talks. The seven hour-long discussions saw the US propose prospective reciprocal agreements on missile deployments while putting a cap on the size and range of military exercises. The US' potential return to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty after its withdrawal from the same in August 2019 was also discussed. The two superpowers engaging directly held hopes of a substantial change in the Ukrainian status quo favouring de-escalation. However, the "frank and forthright" talks, as Sherman put it, were disappointing given their inconclusiveness.

Second, the NATO-Russia Council (NRC). Meeting for the first time since 2019, Russia accepting to sit down and negotiate with NATO was a surprise. The Russian demands of ceasing NATO's eastward expansion and denying membership to Ukraine were rejected on the grounds of the alliance's "open-door policy". Meanwhile, Stoltenberg voiced his concern of a "new armed conflict in Europe" while maintaining that NATO would never compromise on its core principles. 

Third, the OSCE meeting. Rau, following up on Stoltenberg's concerns, reiterated the imminent war in store for the OSCE region. The meeting of the world's largest security body, the only format of talks that saw a Ukrainian representation, was again a cry into the dark.

Fourth, the Russian response. The most notable point in all the three formats of talks is that the Russian response remained the same. The Kremlin had prepared not to concede, come what may. The Kremlin chose diplomacy yet maintained their disinterest in the "endless dragging out of this process." 

What does it mean?
First, the open channel of communication. The promise to continue talks essentially indicates a delay in escalation. The longer diplomacy is in play, the farther away is the possibility of war. This can be considered a positive outcome of the talks. 

Second, the escalation threats. Despite the efforts at diplomacy, one stands to see whether the Kremlin would engage and escalate tensions along the Ukrainian periphery. The contradictory statements emerging from the Putin administration are confusing — threats have been issued alongside reassurances of "no intent to invade". However, Kremlin wants the West out of its "sphere of influence". 

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