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What do the parties aim to achieve?
It is not known exactly how the idea for these talks came about. Russian leader Vladimir Putin said the offer came from his US counterpart Joe Biden. If so, it was in response to Russian requests to address its security concerns. What is clear is that the talks are an outgrowth of recent US-Russian diplomacy aimed at stabilizing relations, as well as a response to the build-up of Russian troops that now worries the West.
Russia demanded security guarantees in the context of NATO’s enlargement to include Ukraine, both in terms of future NATO membership and military deployments. If the demands are to be taken at face value, Russia’s goal is to bring a complete end to NATO’s eastward expansion guaranteed by a formal treaty.
It remains to be seen, however, whether this is a correct interpretation of Russia’s goals, or whether in practice it would settle for something less. From the perspective of the United States and NATO, the purpose of the talks is not to stop NATO expansion but to alleviate Russian concerns about it and to defuse Russian tensions. -ukrainian.
These are maximalist demands from Russia – can Putin get out of them?
They could appear to severely limit Russia’s room for maneuver. Yet Putin’s shared vision – as a person who is adamant and incapable of compromise or retreat – has often been wrong in the past.
The short-lived oil price war with Saudi Arabia in 2020 is a recent illustration of the difficult Russian talks giving way to a compromise deal. Indeed, the 2014-2015 Minsk accords, which ended the most active phase of the war in eastern Ukraine, fell well short of the maximalist proposals that Russia had released a few months earlier. .
Given that he faces limited domestic criticism and has a powerful state media machine, it is relatively easy for Putin to make any diplomatic deal a victory. The bigger question may not be whether he’s able to come down, but whether he wants to on issues like NATO enlargement and Ukraine, which he has his sights set on. very sharp.
Is Putin really ready to invade Ukraine?
If diplomacy fails, there is a significant risk that Russia will see military action as the only alternative. But even then Russia has other options and a full-scale invasion is unlikely.
Putin was indeed shrewd in alluding in a roundabout way to possible military actions against Ukraine, while avoiding any direct ultimatum that would tie his hands. In fact, Russia has categorically denied any intention to invade, while simultaneously moving troops towards the border – a tactic designed to sow fear and doubt over Russian intentions.
These military maneuvers can be conceived as a form of political pressure, and not as a prelude to a planned attack. Invading Ukraine would not be easy militarily, would incur huge costs due to new Western sanctions, and would be unpopular in Russia, where there is little appetite for war or a new economic crisis.
More limited Russian military actions are more feasible, but they would also be costly for Russia without any guarantee that they would advance its diplomatic objectives. This prompts Putin to prioritize continued diplomacy over war, even if he doesn’t get everything he wants from the talks.
How far is the United States / NATO prepared to go to defend Ukraine?
There is very little appetite to intervene directly with NATO military forces. Biden has explicitly ruled out sending US troops, and countries like Germany are even more reluctant to get involved militarily.
However, that doesn’t mean the West is powerless to help. Western threats of swift and punitive economic sanctions against Russia are credible. US government sources have also spoken of possible US military assistance to Ukraine in the event of war, including the supply of arms to the Ukrainian military and anti-Russian insurgents. The political and media pressure on the United States and NATO to help Ukraine would be very strong.
What is the most likely outcome here?
A new war between Russia and Ukraine will likely be avoided, and diplomacy between Russia and the West to reduce tensions will likely continue. This includes discussions on NATO enlargement and ending the war in eastern Ukraine. On this last question, the United States will be more directly involved.
But there are unlikely to be quick, comprehensive solutions that resolve the obvious contradictions in the positions of both sides. This means that doubts about Russia’s intentions will continue, and fears of war will not go away entirely. Most likely, both sides will agree to continue discussing, and over time there will be some de-escalation of the current tensions.
Jason Bush is Senior Analyst, Eurasia at Eurasia Group.