Russia has received responses from the United States and NATO to its security policy demands. President Vladimir Putin has been given an opportunity to choose a diplomatic path, away from a dangerous confrontation.
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The initial reactions from Moscow are not encouraging. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, says there is little reason for optimism. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that the US proposal does not contain “any positive reaction” to Russia’s most important demands.
Putin is silent. It seems to be a deliberate strategy to create uncertainty about what the Russian president really wants to achieve by making unwavering demands on Western countries, combined with a massive build-up of forces near Ukraine. The Kremlin says there are no plans to invade the neighboring country, but what they are doing on the ground in the border areas testifies to something else.
The United States and NATO’s response to Russia’s demands have not been made public. It is clear that Russia does not receive any guarantee that NATO will have new member states in the east. That Ukraine should be denied membership forever will violate NATO’s principle of an open door. Sweden and Finland must also be able to apply for membership, if they so wish. Putin will not dictate the boundaries of Russia’s sphere of influence in Europe. Independent nations determine their foreign and security policy roots.
It is nevertheless worth noting that Lavror, the highly experienced foreign minister, is keeping the door ajar. He says it is “an answer that gives hope that we can have a serious conversation about the other demands”.
NATO countries want to talk to Russia about more measures that can strengthen security in Europe. This includes greater mutual openness about military exercises and the deployment of forces. There is also a great need to negotiate arms control, especially after the INF agreement between the United States and Russia was terminated in 2019. This agreement prohibited the deployment of medium-range missiles with nuclear weapons in Europe.
An invasion of Ukraine would be a catastrophic mistake by Russia, with huge casualties, severe economic sanctions and rising tensions. The result of an attack on Ukraine will be that several countries seek security in the Western defense alliance. NATO will also strengthen its defense in the east. The result will be the exact opposite of what Putin wants.
Putin has created an extremely serious crisis. He can at any time dampen tensions by withdrawing forces from the border and responding yes to the invitation to negotiate. It is the only passable road.