After another advance of troops to the western borders in December, Russia made demands to the West, formalized in the form draft bilateral agreement with the United States on security guarantees, and draft agreement on measures to ensure the security of Russia and NATO member countries. These projects had three main requirements:
- a commitment not to expand NATO to the east and a separate refusal to admit states formerly part of the USSR into the alliance;
- the return of the deployment of the alliance troops to the state of May 27, 1997;
- guarantees against the deployment of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles (from 500 to 5500 km) in areas from where they could strike Russian territory.
Although such missiles are not in service with the United States and other NATO countries, the Kremlin believes that there is a hypothetical possibility of deploying them in the American ground-based Aegis Ashore missile defense installations in Romania and Poland. Other theses were formulated, such as the withdrawal of American non-strategic nuclear weapons (nuclear free-fall bombs) from the territory of Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
These apparently unacceptable demands would mean a virtual capitulation of NATO, and their implementation would only lead to new demands from Moscow – for example, regular Russian inspections of the same Aegis Ashore installations to make sure that these guarantees are observed. Documents from the first day of publication were unofficially called “ultimatum”.
The Russian diplomatic school inherits the Soviet one and borrowed many techniques from it. One of them is rigidity and a demonstrative refusal to bargain and make concessions, based on the fact that Russian diplomats traditionally have their hands tied, and any, even insignificant, deviation from the declared line requires coordination with Moscow, regardless of the diplomatic rank of the head of the delegation. Simply put, our diplomats have almost no influence on foreign policy, but only carry out orders like an army. Any real agreements are the monopoly of the political leadership, for which their own diplomats are only mouthpieces and tools.
Russian diplomats have almost no influence on foreign policy, but only carry out orders like an army
Hence the special style of diplomatic rhetoric – the most harsh, in recent years turning into brutalism in the spirit of “new sincerity”. However, this also gives paradoxical flexibility when the country’s leadership replaces the tough rhetoric and exhausting intransigence of its diplomats with broad conciliatory gestures for the sake of important agreements.
Another feature is the admissibility of destructive tactics when it is possible, and even desirable, to organize negotiations only for the sake of their subsequent planned failure. To all appearances, in December-January we dealt with just such a method, and the result of these negotiations was planned in advance. For the sake of this, the Foreign Ministry did not stint on the reputational damage for Deputy Foreign Ministers Sergei Ryabkov and Alexander Grushko, as well as Russian Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich, who headed the Russian delegations in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna, respectively.
What does Russia want?
Any deliberately derailed negotiations are primarily intended to provide diplomatic and moral justification for political decisions that are being made (or have already been made), but not yet announced. Russian diplomats several times mentioned some “military-technical measures” that will follow if the US and NATO refuse to accept Russian demands. These measures can be understood as the deployment of some additional weapons and forces in the western direction.
The spectrum of these measures includes several positions. In a moderate variant, this may be an acknowledgment that cruise missiles ground-based 9M729 for Iskander complexes can have a range of over 500 km. It was their appearance that led in 2019 to the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty, 1987). The deployment of these missiles in missile brigades of the Western Military District may be officially announced. This also includes the possibility of developing a planning warhead for standard ballistic missiles of the Iskander complex, which will increase their range over the threshold of 500 km. Other measures of a similar nature are also possible, connected, one way or another, with the deployment and modernization of existing weapons.
Russia’s demands between the lines speak not only of Ukraine and Georgia not joining NATO, but also of other states, primarily Sweden and Finland. Since Moscow, as expected, did not receive such guarantees, the focus of its “military-technical measures” will probably include the Baltic direction as well.
A tougher approach is associated with Ukraine, but not with a large-scale invasion, but with a change in the status of the Russian military presence in the Donbas. There are no political and material grounds for a full return of Moscow to the half-forgotten plan of Novorossiya in 2014. Even ongoing transfers a variety of military equipment are made deliberately for show, in contrast to the preparations for the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
At the same time, the Russian military in the Donbas has been “unofficially” for the eighth year already, which creates many organizational difficulties and gives rise to incidents. For example, the transfer of the military presence from a hidden and unrecognized to an open one under the guise of a “humanitarian operation” and under the pretext of the West’s rejection of the required security guarantees. Since the presence of the Russian military in the Donbas is already an open secret, the West’s reaction to its official recognition can be predicted in the Kremlin as acceptable in its consequences. In this context, the demonstrative concentration of troops along Russia’s western borders could be a deterrent for Ukraine and for the West from active political and/or military resistance to such “humanitarian efforts”.
Another option is the transformation of the Russian military presence in Belarus. Today it is the old Volga radar station and the long-distance communication center of the Navy – an infrastructure that has long been duplicated on Russian territory by more advanced systems, and objectively Russia does not need it. On the other hand, the emergence of a full-fledged Russian military base (or even more than one) would make it possible to consolidate Russian control over the republic in the light of the upcoming constitutional reform and unhurried integration within the framework of the Union State, and increase pressure on Ukraine, the Baltic countries and Poland.
Here, too, additional troops at the western borders serve as insurance against unforeseen excesses – after all, the military must prepare for many scenarios at the same time. The possible implementation of the “Belarusian option” is also evidenced by the projects planned just for February. military training armed forces of the two states, announced yesterday, January 17.
In any case, the Kremlin, apparently, proceeds from the fact that the outcome of the negotiations held in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna is sufficient to save face in the eyes of the world community with further actions of the Russian authorities. Whether this will be a combination of some of the options suggested above, or some steps in the spirit of “asymmetric actions”, we will see in the coming weeks.
The readiness of the Kremlin to give up its demands in the event of attractive proposals from the West in the field of arms control should not be discounted either. All this is strictly within the framework of the Russian negotiation culture described above. That is, the Russian authorities can exchange threats and “tank rumble” along the borders for new agreements in the field of missile and nuclear weapons and, possibly, space.
After all, the Kremlin perceives today’s West as weakened and demoralized by internal political and economic problems. This means that it is hypothetically possible to get a return to the disarmament agenda that is comfortable for Moscow, which will strengthen its status in international affairs without requiring any real concessions.