Russia has published a wish list of security conditions that it wants to negotiate with the United States and NATO, including an end to the alliance’s eastward expansion and military cooperation with countries such as Ukraine and Georgia, terms that analysts say will be nearly impossible for Washington to accept.
The proposed terms, laid out on December 17 by the Russian Foreign Ministry, come as tensions between Washington and the Kremlin reach a post-Cold War high amid Moscow’s attempts to carve out a sphere of influence that includes some former Soviet states seeking to join NATO.
A senior U.S. administration official speaking on condition of anonymity said that some of the proposals are a nonstarter for the United States and the Russians “know that” but said others “merit some discussion.” The official did not further elaborate.
William Courtney, a former State Department official who took part in U.S.-Soviet defense talks, told RFE/RL that Russia’s proposals would be a way “to formalize spheres of influence,” something he said would be unacceptable to the United States and Europe.
“It’s not a serious proposal. It may have been designed to be rejected so the Kremlin could have one more casus belli in order to invade Ukraine,” said Courtney, who is now an analyst at the Washington-based think tank RAND Corp.
Russia currently has about 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine in what the United States says could be preparations for an invasion. Ukraine has been vocal about joining NATO, something that Russia has called a “red line.”
Courtney said the Kremlin may be using the military buildup “to create a position of strength” at the negotiating table with the United States and NATO.
Russia for years has been warning NATO against further expansion into former Soviet states. The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — all former Soviet states — joined NATO in 2004. The western military alliance said in 2008 that the former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia would someday become members.
George Beebe, the former head of Russia analysis at the CIA, told RFE/RL that Russia may be acting now to stop Ukraine from joining NATO even though its membership is not on the horizon because it fears growing U.S. military cooperation with Kyiv.
The United States, which signed a new defense cooperation agreement with Ukraine in November, has been upgrading some of the country’s ports to fit U.S. warships.
“That relationship will be far stronger and deeper and the United States military will be more firmly entrenched inside Ukraine two to three years from now than it is now. So inaction on their part is risky,” said Beebe, who is now director of studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington.
Beebe said the Russian proposals would lead to tough negotiations, but did not believe it was designed to fail.
“I think this was their opening position. I think it’s designed to be a basis for negotiations. It will be a difficult negotiation … but not an impossible one. I think there’s potential middle grounds on many of the issues that the Russians are talking about.”
Russia’s proposed terms also seek to limit Russian and NATO military exercises in a designated buffer area to no more than brigade level, and would bar the deployment of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles “in areas from which they are capable of hitting targets on the territory of other participants.”
Courtney said some of the proposals, including transparency of military drills, could be negotiable.
The senior administration official said that the United States would first discuss the proposals with its European allies before responding to Russia and that any dialogue with Moscow would also need to address NATO’s concerns about the Kremlin’s actions.
At a press briefing on December 17, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov raised the risk of an arms buildup in Europe, saying Moscow might be forced to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe due to “indirect indications” that NATO was planning on deploying such missiles. NATO has said it has no such plans and would deter new Russian missiles with conventional weapons.
Ryabkov has described Washington and NATO’s response to Russia’s security proposals as discouraging and said during a wide-ranging interview with Interfax on December 17 that he did not consider them unacceptable to NATO’s 30 members.
Calling on Washington to take the proposals seriously, Ryabkov expressed hope that the United States would enter into negotiations, saying the issue “is critically important for maintaining peace and stability.”
Russia handed over the draft documents during a meeting with U.S. State Department officials on December 15.
During that meeting, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried discussed U.S. concerns about Russia’s massive military buildup near the Ukrainian border.
In its draft proposals, Russia called for NATO to “accept obligations that preclude further NATO enlargement, including the accession of Ukraine, as well as other states.”
While Georgia was not specifically mentioned in the document, Ryabkov made clear on December 17 that Moscow had the South Caucasus country in mind.
“We directly demand the withdrawal of the known decision from NATO’s 2008 summit in Bucharest in which it was said that Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members,” Ryabkov said.
“This needs to be canceled, reconsidered,” Ryabkov said of the extraordinary NATO session, in which the alliance committed to keeping its doors open to any European democracy that was able to meet the obligations of membership.
The proposals published by Russia also suggest that the NATO-Russia Council be used to resolve disputes and a hotline be set up to deal with emergencies.
The NATO-Russia Council was set up in 2002 to facilitate cooperation between the alliance and Moscow, but its work was suspended in April 2014 following Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, including its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists fighting against Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine.
Despite the suspension, NATO has kept lines of communication open and seven council meetings have taken place since 2016.