Western policymakers are still as perplexed as their counterparts were about Russia’s geopolitical intentions forty years ago on the eve of the Cold War.
Is the Kremlin preparing to launch an invasion of its neighbor Ukraine, which increasingly sees itself as part of the West, if broad security guarantees sought by Russia are turned down? Or is the ominous Russian military buildup along Ukraine’s borders an exercise in brinkmanship, a maneuver by President Vladimir Putin to try to write off more than the United States and European allies on the negotiating table?
Answers to those questions could begin to come Monday when senior US and Russian officials meet in Geneva to begin discussions on the Kremlin’s demands of NATO to withdraw any military presence from former Soviet satellite countries in central Europe and to discuss Ukraine’s But to ease the crisis.
Nearly eight decades ago, Western policymakers were trying to understand the intentions of then-Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, a communist leader whose legacy Putin has done much to try to resettle in Russia. Guy Liddell, a top British intelligence officer, lamented in his diary in February 1948 how difficult it was to understand whether Soviet Russia was planning a military offensive.
While the Kremlin declared peaceful intentions and said its maneuvers were “strategically defensive”, Liddell recorded in his diary that Russian actions – from military preparation to propaganda campaigns, from intervention to “disinformation efforts” – were the same. Those would be with the “policy planned for the invasion” and so the western powers had no choice but to prepare for the worst and remain vigilant.
Just two weeks later the communists, directed by the Kremlin, seized final control over the government of Czechoslovakia. The loss of the last remaining democracy in Eastern Europe ended the division of Europe, leaving the two halves of the continent chilled in a four-decade-long Cold War.
Policy makers are now divided about what Putin had in mind by camping more than 100,000 soldiers on Ukraine’s borders, and whether military build-up is misguided, motivated by adventurism or a sense of insecurity.
Some Western diplomats fear Putin intends the talks to fail, so he has an excuse to push deeper into Ukraine, in a repeat of 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. A large part confiscated.
They are also wrestling with the options available to them to try to prevent Putin from taking any dramatic military action on Ukraine. And while all NATO members, and many non-members in Europe, have joined the United States in warning of dire consequences and punitive economic sanctions in the event of a Russian move on Ukraine, there are significant nuances between some Western leaders and others. harder than it looks.
Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who wants a one-on-one meeting with Russian leader Putin later this month, has talked about re-establishing ties with Moscow and recently “a fresh start”. Although he has also warned of dire consequences. Another Russian attack on Ukraine. The President of Finland, Saulie Niinisto, has been very harsh and defiant in his public comments, reiterating his country’s right to join NATO if the Finns decide to join, and Russian demands accepting new NATO members. flatly rejected.
Sweden, which is not a member of NATO but is deepening military cooperation with the bloc, is also pushing Moscow’s detailed demands for NATO expansion with its foreign minister Ann Linde, underlining that Moscow needs to There is no authority to decide which countries can join the Trans-Atlantic Military Alliance.
“It should not be up to Russia whether we can join or if we cannot join NATO,” she said on Friday.
Ahead of formal talks this week, NATO officials have dismissed Russia’s broader security demands as impossible and non-starting. Demands included a moratorium on further expansion of NATO and a roll-back of any coalition military presence in the eight former Soviet republics and seven of Central Europe’s satellite states, which had joined the Western Alliance in waves since 1999. The Kremlin has also demanded the withdrawal of US strategic nuclear weapons from Europe but has not offered any reciprocal sanctions on its arsenal of strategic missiles.
Bilateral US-Russian talks in Geneva, which are being led by senior State Department officials on the US side, are to follow Russia-NATO Council talks in Brussels this week and a meeting in Vienna of the Security and Co-Organisation . Operations in Europe, a body that includes Russia, Ukraine and all NATO countries. They haven’t been seen as high-stakes diplomacy for a week, as the Cold War with Putin appears determined to try to limit talks about the security architecture of Europe and the entire future of Western powers.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against “endless discussions, which is something the West knows how to do and is notorious for.” His boss, President Putin, has also said he is unwilling to negotiate “condemnation” in previous decades. “They will talk endlessly about the need for dialogue,” he said recently on Russian television.
Some Western policymakers suspect Putin is trying to be hasty because brickmanship could undermine Western resolve and sabotage its unity. But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on Sunday that he worries Putin aims to “regain influence on countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.” He continued: “We cannot go back to the world of spheres of influence. That was a recipe for instability, a recipe for conflict, a recipe that led to world wars.”
Andrew Marshall of the Atlantic Council, a US research group, says the geopolitical stakes are potentially changing the era. “The outcome of this controversy could decisively rewrite the conditions of security on the European continent for an entire generation – as did the decisions of the 1990s after the end of the Cold War,” he explained in a recent commentary. .
Will Putin accept anything less than a rebel, when Moscow controlled half of Europe? The Western strategy appears to be trying to drag Putin into the weeds and discuss some of the European security arrangements that both sides are interested in reaching agreements with. Sweden’s Foreign Minister Linde points to arms controls and regulations on the size and frequency of military exercises near the border. Linde told Foreign Policy magazine that Moscow’s intentions are unclear, but “giving diplomacy and dialogue a chance to work is always better than military activities,” she said.
Other analysts believe Putin is ultimately focusing on Ukraine and getting it to return to Russian orbit and that widespread demands on the European security architecture are a matter once discussed by former US diplomat Henry Kissinger described it as a Russian tendency to “kick all the doors”. Let’s see those who fall from their hinges.”
Russian commentator Vladimir Frolov believes Putin is prepared to ensure that Ukraine “has to end its ties with Russia on Russian terms.” But he also fears that a more limited target is unlikely.
“The potential for growth remains due to unrealistic requirements under artificially short deadlines,” he says.