Yesterday’s meeting in Geneva between the Russian and American delegations can be seen as a new argument in support of those convinced about Washington’s weak diplomacy. Let me explain.
At first glance, it appears that the United States will reject all of Moscow’s central demands:
1. Washington will continue NATO’s open-door policy regarding expansion of the alliance, that is, the future membership of Ukraine and Georgia; and
2. Washington rejects the demand to remove all NATO military infrastructure installed after 1997 in Eastern European countries that are now members of the alliance.
Politically, this sounds good — but only politically. Practically speaking, the problems are plain.
Ukraine and Georgia are not going to become NATO members anytime soon. If this was an imminent possibility in any way, then a Membership Action Plan program for Ukraine and Georgia would have received the green light. Since this is not the case, a declaration that the open-door policy will remain in effect is theoretical and declarative.
Only a superficial reading of the bilateral discussions in Geneva could be interpreted as a categorical win for the U.S. and NATO. That is because at this meeting, the Americans seem to be:
1. Open to discussing the location of some of its missile installations located in Europe; and
2. Open to discussing regulations on the number and scope of U.S. military exercises in Europe, if Russia will reciprocate.
These two positions directly compromise Washington’s otherwise firm statement that NATO will not reduce the military capabilities on its eastern flank — a guarantee Secretary of State Antony Blinken made to the Bucharest Nine NATO members only a week earlier.
Beyond Eastern Europe, since December, when the Russian Federation insisted Washington meet its demands to provide guarantees for the security of Russian western borders, the alliance has offered two assurances.
First, NATO will not consider the opinions of a third-party nonmember country (Russia) in determining policy and expansion. Second, membership in NATO is a sovereign right and the decision of each state to make.
Yet the American response to Russian demands in Geneva indicate that both assurances are essentially nothing but hot air, or at least highly questionable. How can you both expand the military capabilities of alliance members and simultaneously limit military exercises? How can NATO ensure the security of its European members while removing or relocating its missile installations?
There are other complications. It is still unclear what Russia means by “American” surface-to-air missile defense systems and how the placement of such systems could potentially be open to revision. Are such systems defined as those that belong to Washington, those sold by Washington to NATO member states, or both?
For example, how would this Russian demand affect the Patriot MIM-104 surface-to-air missiles located in Romania and Greece — missiles that affect Bulgarian security, since we do not have any SAM capability?
In fact, what could further strengthen Moscow’s geopolitical position vis-à-vis the Old Continent is a divided European Union being the precursor to a divided NATO. Washington’s “openness” to discussing the above-mentioned parameters concerning NATO positions in Eastern Europe is exactly what Russia wants to hear.
We have yet to mention that for Russia, appetite comes with eating. Has anything changed in the Russian Federation’s behavior after Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin’s meeting in the middle of last year? On the contrary, the Russians initiated a military buildup at Ukraine’s borders and sent troops to Kazakhstan after a request by the Collective Security Treaty Organization. What does the U.S. expect to happen if its missiles are removed and its defense exercises reduced?
Globally it seems like the U.S. is trying to reproduce its China strategy (competition, cooperation and confrontation) and apply it to Russia. But while this strategy might make sense when it comes to Beijing, it is less convincing when it comes to Moscow. Russia is not China.
During an exchange of pleasantries between the Americans and the Russians just before the Geneva meeting, Blinken said, “It’s hard to get Russians to leave once they’re in your home.”
Yeah, sure. So why are you giving them a copy of the key?