Does Vladimir Putin really believe that he can protect Russia's security through military expansion? The opposite would be the case.
The meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday in Brussels is the second stop in the conference marathon on European security. This time the European states are allowed to take part, at least those that belong to NATO.
At the beginning on Monday, during the Russian-US-American talks in Geneva, the unpleasant impression could arise that once again the great powers wanted to decide among themselves over the fate of the continent. There was even talk of "Yalta" as if Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin intended to divide Europe up into spheres of interest again, as did Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in February 1945.
For God's sake, the Americans rejected such suspicions, not a step without our allies! Especially not without Ukraine, which will at least be sitting at the table tomorrow, in the third stage, when the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meets in Vienna.
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It's about Ukraine. Russia has gathered around 100,000 soldiers at their border. To invade the neighboring country? To put pressure on the West ? Because Russian soldiers don't like to spend New Year's Eve in the barracks? You don't really know.
In any case, the threatening backdrop made an impression in Washington, DC, Kiev and NATO. The security guarantees that Russia is demanding from the West and which it has already formulated in two draft treaties are so excessive that some consider them just a pretext to give Putin a reason to invade the neighboring country again if they refuse.
The situation is dangerous and that is why the US immediately agreed to talks. Talks, not negotiations, mind you, as US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman pointed out to journalists on Monday evening in Geneva.
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She and her Russian colleague, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, had by no means gone through the Moscow draft treaties line by line. Rather, they first explored what we can and do not want to talk about. You and Ryabkov could be open to each other, "we know each other very, very well". But there would be no negotiations without the allies and partners. The maxim: "Nothing about you without you!"
One thing was clear even before the explorations: there are Russian demands that are simply unacceptable to the West. NATO will never agree to forego any future expansion. It cannot do this because it must remain the sovereign decision of each country as to which alliance it wants to join - a principle to which the Soviet Union and later Russia have repeatedly agreed.
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In any case, it is not up to Russia to decide whether Ukraine can join the Western alliance - or Finland or Sweden, should they ever decide to join. Of course, there can be good reasons to reject or postpone a membership application, as was the case with Georgia and Ukraine in 2008. But a ban on expansion forever? Locked out.
Nonetheless, there are points in the Moscow draft treaties that are worth talking about from the US point of view. For example, one to dispense with the stationing of medium- and short-range missiles. Arms control is the keyword that Wendy Sherman could not mention often enough at her telephone press conference.
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In fact, it would be a blessing if Americans and Russians came back into conversation on this subject. In 2019 the USA - with the consent of all NATO countries - terminated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Medium-Range Missiles (INF Agreement) after it had been violated by Russia for years. Since then, there has been almost complete radio silence between the major nuclear powers on disarmament. If one returned to a dialogue here via Russia's call for security guarantees,Europe.
But the missiles are not that important to Vladimir Putin at the moment; he wants to set limits for NATO.
Realistically speaking, the alliance poses no threat to Russia. How in general Russia is not threatened from outside. As little as Kazakhstan or Belarus. The problem with all of these successor states to the Soviet Union is internal tensions as a result of corruption, repression and mismanagement - tensions which, due to a lack of democratic procedures and institutions, are difficult to resolve peacefully.
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Does Putin really believe that he can protect the security and well-being of Russia through military expansion? The opposite would be the case. If Russian troops crossed the borders with Ukraine, the United States and the West as a whole would put in place financial and economic sanctions that would hit Russia much harder than the punitive measures adopted in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea.
The West would probably also deliver weapons to Ukraine. No gas would flow out of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for a long time. Maybe never.
Putin would do the most damage to himself and his country. If he succeeded in making this clear to him, every minute of this week's conference marathon would have been worth it.
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