The negotiators of Russia and the United States are scheduled to hold a round of talks in Geneva on Monday, followed by Russia-Northern Dating talks in Brussels, and a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna within a week.
The following are the agenda and main issues of the security talks:
Fear of Russian invasion
The build-up of Russian troops and equipment near the Ukrainian border has raised concerns in Kiev and the West that Moscow may plan to launch an invasion.
Moscow denied such intentions and in turn accused the Ukrainian authorities of planning to launch an offensive to take back control of the eastern Ukrainian territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists. Ukraine denies this accusation.
US President Joe Biden discussed the buildup of Russian troops with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice last month, warning that Moscow will face “serious consequences” if it attacks its neighbors, including unprecedented economic and financial sanctions.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and supported the separatist rebellion that began in the east of the country in the same year. Over seven years of fighting has resulted in the deaths of more than 14,000 people. The West responded that sanctions hit the Russian economy, but failed to persuade Moscow to change its course.
Russia’s security needs
Putin described the possibility of Ukraine’s entry into NATO and the coalition’s deployment of weapons there as a “red line” for Moscow. The Kremlin requires Washington and its allies to make binding commitments, excluding NATO’s expansion into Ukraine, Georgia, or any other former Soviet Union countries.
Moscow also asked the United States and its allies to commit not to deploy weapons or conduct any military activities in Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.
The Kremlin submitted a draft Russian-US security treaty and a blueprint for the Russia-NATO agreement as the starting point for negotiations this week. They will force the Alliance not to station any troops in areas where they did not exist in 1997—before NATO merged the former Soviet bloc countries and the former Soviet republics.
Moscow’s proposal also suggests freezing the patrols of Russian and US naval ships and bombers near each other’s borders. In addition, they called for efforts to reduce the risk of incidents involving Russian and NATO warships and aircraft, mainly in the Baltic and Black Seas; reduce the scope of military exercises; increase transparency and other confidence-building measures.
U.S. and NATO response
The United States and its allies resolutely rejected NATO’s request not to accept Ukraine or any other new members, emphasizing that a key principle of the alliance is that membership is open to any eligible country, and no outsider has the right to veto.
Although Ukraine and Georgia are not ready to join NATO and are unlikely to be invited to join soon, Western allies insist that NATO’s door must be opened to them. In 2008, NATO promised to accept these two countries eventually, but did not provide them with a specific road map for joining.
Although the allies firmly refused to stop NATO’s expansion, Washington and NATO stated that if Russia takes a constructive stance, they are ready to discuss arms control, confidence-building measures, increase transparency, and reduce risk.
US officials said that if Russia is willing to make concessions in Ukraine, they are willing to discuss reducing possible future deployment of offensive missiles in Ukraine and restricting US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.
At the same time, the White House urged Russia to withdraw its troops from areas near Ukraine to create a positive environment for the upcoming talks. Moscow rejected the proposal, saying it could deploy troops wherever it deems necessary on its territory, and described the buildup as a response to NATO’s “hostile” actions.
Putin called the negotiations with the United States a “positive” move, but said he hopes to achieve results as soon as possible, and warned the West not to try to overwhelm Russia’s demands with “empty talk.”
At a press conference last month, when asked if he could guarantee that Russia would not invade Ukraine, Putin responded angrily that the West “must give us a guarantee immediately and give them now.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who headed the Russian delegation during the security talks, described the requirement to guarantee that NATO would not extend to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries as “absolutely necessary” and warned the United States. Refusal to discuss it will make further conversations pointless.
Ryabkov said: “We are not reaching out, but going there with a precisely formulated task. We need to solve this problem under the conditions we have set.” He warned that Russia will not make any concessions under threats and pressure. He also pointed out that if the United States and its allies do not cooperate, the negotiations may end after the first round.
The Kremlin’s outspoken demands, coupled with the push for rapid results, have heightened American suspicions that Moscow might make unrealistic demands just to see the breakdown of negotiations and use them as an excuse for radical action. Russian diplomats denied this statement.
Military technology options
Although Moscow denies plans to attack Ukraine, Putin warned that if the West ignores his security requirements, he will be forced to take unspecified “military technical measures.”
Apart from saying that Russia’s response in that situation “may be different” and “will depend on the recommendations our military experts submit to me,” he did not elaborate.
Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to the Kremlin, said that Putin had told Biden that Russia’s behavior was the same as when the United States saw offensive weapons deployed near its borders.
Putin pointed out that if the new zircon hypersonic cruise missile is installed on a warship deployed in neutral waters, it may bring unprecedented precision strike potential to Russia. At the end of December, the launch of zircon salvos heralded the completion of testing of the new weapon. Putin said that this weapon flies at 9 times the speed of sound and has a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).
Putin expressed concern that NATO may use Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles that can reach Moscow in just five minutes, but also pointed out that zircon will give Russia similar capabilities.
“It also only takes five minutes to reach the person who gave the order,” Putin said.