*Editor’s Note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
lena Panina, director of the Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies, on the prospects for dialogue between the Russian Federation and the United States in 2023.
The United States recently expanded sanctions against Russia, and the European Union has now adopted a ninth package of restrictions. These circumstances raise the question: Can we expect any constructive dialogue to open up between the Russian Federation and the West in the near future? It seems we can’t. In the first place, neither Moscow nor Washington have achieved their main objectives in the conflict in Ukraine.
The United States sees Russia as a mere temporary ally of China, America’s main adversary; and it regards the EU as a potential rival for geopolitical power whose weakness remains a primary condition for maintaining American hegemony. By separating the European Union from Russia and China, the United States has put the brakes on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which, if successful, would combine their potential and end the unipolar world, transforming America into an island on the fringes of Eurasia.
Using Ukraine against Russia is just one part of a unified Anglo-Saxon plan to weaken Europe. And, so far, the Americans have been successful at it. Russia is in a relative state of U.S.-controlled isolation. The EU is suffering from economic recession and capital flight. And meanwhile, the United States has begun to experience growth.
At the same time, China and India, threatened by the prospect of secondary sanctions from the West, are not stepping in with massive parallel exports to Russia. In time, the United States hopes to convert Russia’s nascent economic problems into domestic political problems. And so far, the U.S. has had no reason to revise this strategy. That would require a real shift on the Ukrainian front and the defeat of Kyiv, which is not happening yet.
Two competing positions with respect to Russia have emerged in the United States, one moderate and the other radical. But the differences between them are insignificant, and they are both unacceptable to Moscow. They are the official position of the Biden administration and a plan recently published by former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. The difference is that the White House demands that Russia withdraw its troops from all occupied territories, including the Donbas region, as a condition precedent to the start of negotiations, setting aside the return of Crimea to Ukraine as the subject of separate negotiations to be conducted over a period of seven, 10 or 15 years.
Kissinger proposes withdrawing Russian troops to the Feb. 24 borders returning the liberated territories in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, followed by referendums in those territories, as well as in Crimea, under so-called international control—in other words, on conditions imposed by the United States. There is no doubt that the outcome of such referendums would be interpreted in keeping with the interests of the West. The results will be used to further justify forcing Russia to capitulate.
But Joe Biden’s plan also contemplates—and, indeed, considers essential—the dismemberment of Russia, conceptualized as the “decolonization of Russia,” while Kissinger, on the contrary, seems to find the disintegration of the Russian Federation unacceptable. Nevertheless, this is patently hypocritical, because Russia’s withdrawal from the newly reacquired territories could itself trigger a rift in the government. In addition, the former secretary of state proposes the formation of new structures for managing Central and Eastern Europe, which would necessarily include Russia.
Kissinger probably aims to preserve the appearance of the old approach of using the Russian Federation to fight China and other U.S. rivals in Eurasia, namely, the theory that a balance of power in Eurasia is impossible without Russia. But, at the same time, Kissinger suggests that negotiations over a neutral Ukraine no longer make sense, and “a peace process should link Ukraine and NATO, however expressed.”
Russia’s stated position is that the inclusion of the new territories in the Russian Federation was realized by referendum and memorialized in the Constitution. Any reconsideration of that decision automatically opens the door to Russia’s collapse and destruction of key provisions of Russia’s foundational law.
Such divergent points of view make negotiation impossible. The U.S. wants to turn Russia into a European colony and Europe into a U.S. colony. For Russia, such an arrangement is unacceptable.
Obviously, neither the Russian Federation nor the West has limitless resources, military, economic or otherwise. But existing resources are far from fully mobilized in the United States and in Russia. Europe is caught between a rock and a hard place, but one should not consider its economic decline an obstacle. With both sides far from achieving their strategic objectives, any change in position would be tantamount to one side or the other conceding defeat. In other words, there is simply nothing to talk about for now. Russia will never agree to the Kissinger plan or the Biden plan, just as the U.S. will not accept the Russian Federation’s position.
This is called a “negotiation impasse,” and it will continue until there is a change in the balance of power, a change that is recognized as an unavoidable and immutable reality. For the time being, both sides are assessing the dynamics of their opponent’s position and gathering information to further adjust their policies, all the while proclaiming those policies as a means of spreading propaganda and putting pressure on the enemy.
The West considers Russia a prodigal son and heretic that must be restrained and reeducated. Russia demands that the United States and the West as a whole recognize its distinct identity and zone of influence.
All together this means that a constructive dialogue with the West is unlikely unless there are drastic changes in Ukraine. There is nothing to talk about, and neither side intends to negotiate its own surrender.
This is not a question of the people’s prosperity and comfort. It is question of the survival of the West and Russia in their current forms. So, we should not overestimate the impact of confrontation fatigue because it does not fundamentally affect the parties’ assessment of their vital national geopolitical interests. The confrontation will continue—perhaps with an occasional pause and even periodic negotiations. Nevertheless, a new Yalta is still far off, and one should not expect it next year.