Sunday, January 16

Excited before the crisis meetings with Russia: – Not much room for negotiation

LAST SUMMIT: Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin met for talks on June 16 last year in Geneva. Since then, they have had several video calls, most recently between Christmas and New Year. The US-NATO / Russia relationship is now described as even more unpredictable.

According to VG’s information, it is likely that NATO and the member states will reject negotiations with Russia based on documents that will change the balance of power in Europe, as Russia has demanded.


The starting point that is being discussed right now on the Western side is how the United States and NATO can still meet Russia to increase trust between the parties and thus reduce the risk of a military conflict over Ukraine.

– You get more and more worried. The situation is difficult and demanding, says a security source on the western side, to VG.

Emergency meeting in NATO

On Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg convened an extraordinary meeting of Foreign Ministers in the alliance to coordinate Western interests.

To VG, the fear of a Russian attack on Ukraine is described as significant.

But because no one knows for sure about President Vladimir Putin’s next move, there is great tension and nervousness around the meetings agreed with Russian diplomats in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna in the next few days.

Expectations from the NATO side are so low that only an agreement on new meetings of the NATO-Russia Council will be considered a kind of success, according to another source on the Western side.

Truer Ukraine

The background for these meetings is that Russia – according to Western intelligence – has moved large military forces to the border areas with Ukraine.

Russia’s top leaders have denied that the intention is to cross the border into Ukraine. But in mid-December, Russia demanded immediate talks with NATO countries, and directly with the United States. through two draft agreements.

From Russia’s point of view, this is not just about denying Ukraine membership in NATO forever:

Among the demands is also that NATO should not occupy other new member states either – and that the United States and the alliance withdraw their military forces from the new member states, the former Soviet republics, in the east.

– At these points, there is not much room for negotiation, says a centrally located source.

Two recent telephone conversations between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have also not led to visible results or that the conflict has escalated.

ON THE BORDER: EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, in an all-green jacket in the middle, on Wednesday visited the border areas of Ukraine with the areas in Luhansk controlled by the pro-Russian forces, together with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Invasion-ready force

NATO sources say they have intelligence that Russia’s forces in the immediate vicinity of Ukraine are “a credible invading force” that can attack the neighboring country with almost zero warning time.

Russia has for months deployed a military force positioned to invade western Ukraine. Once the force is in place, the demand for negotiations comes. The very difficult question now is whether to reward such behavior, says Anders Romarheim to VG.

He heads the Center for International Security at the Department of Defense Studies, IFS.

– Putin now demands that the West bend, but risks being left empty-handed, and what happens then? We have not been so close to a full-scale state to state war in Europe for many decades, says Romarheim.

DANGER OF WAR: According to IFS researcher Anders Romarheim, we have not been so close to a full-scale state-to-state war in Europe for many decades.

Discussion of terms

VG is also aware of an internal discussion in NATO about whether the alliance – as a condition for further talks – should demand that Russia start withdrawing soldiers from the border with Ukraine.

Internal voices should have warned against this. Major NATO countries such as Germany, France, Italy and the United States are ready to enter into real talks with Russia, at least testing Russia’s willingness to choose diplomacy over arms.

In NATO, the risk is considered significant that the situation will quickly worsen further, according to the sources with whom VG has spoken: If the Russian leadership believes that they will not get anywhere – then Russia will use “military technical measures”, as President Vladimir Putin has threatened with?

NEGOTIATIONS: Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, formerly Russia’s ambassador to NATO, will lead the Russian delegation when the NATO-Russia Council meets on Wednesday.

A series of meetings

On Friday, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will consult the NATO foreign ministers at an extraordinary meeting. Then begins a series of meetings between Russia and the West.

As VG reported in December, NATO wanted to meet Russia in three different formats. Russia has agreed to:

** On Sunday and Monday, delegations from the United States and Russia will meet in Geneva, led by Deputy Foreign Ministers Wendy Sherman and Sergei Ryabkov.

** On Wednesday at 10 am, the Russian delegation will arrive at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, and the first formal meeting of the NATO Russia Council in a long time.

Russia has announced that Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko is leading their delegation. He was Russia’s ambassador to NATO from 2012 to 2018. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Fomin is also registered for the NATO Russia meeting.

** Next Thursday, meetings will be held in Vienna under the auspices of the OSCE, an organization in which both Russia and Ukraine have full membership.

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