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War of Nerves and Diplomacy between NATO and Russia

War of Nerves and Diplomacy between NATO and Russia

Tuesday, 1 February, 2022 - 09:00

On 26 January 2022, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg informed the public that NATO and the USA had responded to the “Russian list of demands”.

NATO’s reply was prepared by the representatives of 30 member states at NATO Headquarters in Brussels and the USA reply was prepared in Washington. The two replies no doubt were closely coordinated.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “the responses offer grounds for serious talks only on matters of secondary importance and there is no positive response to the main issue”. In any event, Russia was pleased to receive the replies. They will be assessed, Lavrov said.

The issues which Lavrov emphasized as “main issues” are: “NATO enlargement towards the east” and “the deployment of strike weapons near Russia’s borders”.

Fundamental differences between NATO and Russia:

-Russia claims that “in 1990, when Germany was reunified and the issue of European security was raised, they solemnly promised that NATO would not expand even an inch eastward beyond the Oder River” but this promise was not kept.

NATO denies the existence of any such guarantees.

-Russia wants NATO out of the territories of former Warsaw Pact countries which have become members after 1997. In other words, Russia wants to impose restrictions on NATO deployments there and create a kind of buffer or demilitarized zone.

Stoltenberg pointed out that within the framework of Article 5, all member states will be protected and defended. NATO says it is not up to Russia or anyone else, to impose or even suggest how this will be done.

On that point, Stoltenberg also reminded that in all member states, including those which became a member after 1997, NATO presence is based on their free consent and within the framework of an agreement, whereas, Russian forces are in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, without the consent of these countries. Stoltenberg called on Russia to withdraw these forces.

There may be ways to appease concerns.

NATO stands by the principle that every nation has the right to choose its own path, decide whether to be a member of an organization or not.

With this principle remaining, the Secretary-General drew a picture where, regardless of whether a nation has applied for membership (as in the case of Ukraine and Georgia), or not (as in the case of Sweden and Finland), NATO can establish very close partnerships, politically and militarily.

Almost full membership in every sense, minus article 5 (and deployments) which is applicable only to full members and not partners? This notion may allow the continuation of building a close partnership with Ukraine and Georgia and also meet Russian concerns.

The 1990s were marked by a series of mutually enforcing agreements.

Risk reduction, transparency, and arms control have turned out to constitute a good part of NATO’s reply.

These concepts had contributed so much to the achievements in the 1980s and 1990s.

Let's recall the main instruments and their present-day status:

-Vienna Document: A politically binding document, consisting of a set of confidence and security-building measures It is still valid but has not been updated since 2011.

-The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE): Limits the number of heavy weapons systems that may be kept in the area from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains. At the end of 2007, Russia

suspended its participation in the CFE.

-Open Skies Treaty: A system of aerial monitoring of arms control agreements. The USA withdrew in 2020 and Russia followed in December 2021.

-The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty: Signed in 1988, the USA withdrew in 2019 and the Treaty is no more.

The present status and what may follow

-There seems to be a general understanding that there is a problem and a need to do something about it. Stoltenberg stated NATO’s readiness to listen to Russia’s concerns and discuss. He also emphasized what NATO will not accept as well as giving hints on what can be done within the framework of non-acceptable.

-We can expect the NATO-Russia Council to meet in the coming weeks, to discuss how to proceed.

-There are differing views on Russian objectives. One view is that Russia feels threatened and is flexing its muscles. The other view is that Russia is working to regain the ground it lost in the 1990s. In my opinion, it is a combination of both, but the latter being the stronger driving force.

-Even though NATO members have come up with a joint document, this does not necessarily mean that they are all on the same page. The economics and energy dimensions of the crisis are extremely sensitive. Germany and Croatia have their own concerns. France, once again, has dashed into the arena as the self-proclaimed political and military mastermind of Europe and the defender of “European problems to be solved by Europeans”.

-Russia, again, may find an opportunity to play into differences between the Allies and try to widen cracks that may exist.

-NATO is pursuing its dual-track approach, which is deterrence and defense on the one hand and dialogue on the other.

-Despite all the statements, movements, and mobilization, I think the risk of an invasion and military confrontation is small. But who knows how things may develop and what future may carry.

-As I wrote in my previous article on this issue (January 8) “no matter how complicated problems are, diplomacy is the best way to achieve a lot if given a chance”. It is encouraging to see that diplomacy is in play.

Would it be very unrealistic to wonder whether this war of nerves and diplomacy between NATO and Russia could eventually lead to a new era of calm?

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