Earlier in the week soon after the Biden-Putin virtual summit which focused on renewed and soaring Ukraine tensions, the US president indicated that he hoped to announce a meeting between Russia and NATO leaders by Friday, which will include "at least four of our major NATO allies."
As Bloomberg reported, the offer of a meeting infuriated a number of eastern European and Baltic countries seen as most vulnerable in the face of an "aggressive" Russia. Additionally, officials chafed at the likelihood that their small countries would not invited to the table, in favor of more powerful West European NATO countries who are more closely allied to the US.
"Russia should under no circumstances be given a say in who may or may not be a member of NATO," Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told reporters on Thursday. She said that Moscow’s "most worrying wish is to divide Europe into spheres of influence. We remember these kinds of moments from our own history and we are in no way naive on this issue."
And chair of the Estonian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Marko Mihkelson, called the overture "a disappointing surprise" and urged a diplomatic push to block the meeting should it not include members of NATO's eastern flank, according to Bloomberg.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki seemed to liken it to giving into Russia's taking advantage and using the Afghan pullout chaos as geopolitical blackmail: "I believe that after the pullout from Afghanistan, the situation in NATO is tense, it’s difficult and also, unfortunately, our adversaries, foes and Russia is one of them are taking advantage of the situation," he said.
Meanwhile, noting that the NATO-Russia Council has not been held for 18 months, which was supposed to be the main avenue for dialogue, Russian media reports indicate that NATO is still offering the Kremlin a meeting:
Speaking on Wednesday as part of a discussion on 'Peace policy in our time,' NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the organization champions "what we call the dual track approach to Russia; deterrence, defense but also dialogue."
"There’s no contradiction… between being firm in our strategy to our neighbor in the East, at the same time engaging in" communication, he added.
Biden in a Thursday phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed, however, that he wouldn't negotiate "over the heads" of eastern flank countries, The Wall Street Journal noted in its latest reporting.
"The idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now," Biden says. Adds that U.S. involvement in Ukraine will depend on what other NATO countries are doing.— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) December 8, 2021
As for Putin, he's seeking legal assurances and "long-term guarantees" that NATO will not push further east either in terms of new membership or expansion of its military infrastructure.
But the feeling in Ukraine is that anytime Putin wants to gain "guarantees" from Washington and NATO, all he has to do is order extra forces to muster in Crimea and near Donbass, sparking a crisis which leads to the West giving more and more concessions to avoid a looming conflict. If this is indeed the case, it should be remembered that US mainstream media has played a huge role in hyping the Russian troop build-up and supposed "invasion" of Ukraine plans, dialing up the fear and geopolitical drama, and thus giving Putin significant leverage in dealing both with the White House and Brussels.