As we detailed earlier, a Kremlin delegation led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko went to NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday where he was received by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The meeting reportedly lasted four hours.
"If Russia once again uses force against Ukraine and further invades Ukraine, then we have to seriously look into the need to further increase our presence in the eastern part of the alliance," Stoltenberg told reporters after Wednesday's meeting.
While Stoltenberg reiterated what's at stake amid the 'Ukraine 2.0' crisis, highlighting "a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe" - Russia has continued to assure the West it is not planning any kind of Ukraine invasion.
At the same time, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman - who led Monday talks for the US in Geneva - condemned Russia's "unprovoked military buildup" near Ukraine. She also said that NATO poses no threat to Russia, and that Moscow should not see the Western military alliance as such.
Below are key points made in the NATO Secretary-General's press conference just after meeting with the Russians...
Stoltenberg says NATO is standing firmly by its "open door policy" - after Moscow has demanded that Brussels rescind its prior offer of a "path" for Ukraine and Georgia membership:
"Today Russia raised the proposal that they published in December aimed at addressing their security concerns; these include demands to stop admitting any new member to NATO and withdraw forces from eastern allies. Allies on their side reaffirmed NATO's open door policy and the right for each nation to choose its own security arrangements. Allies made clear that they will not renounce their ability to protect and defend each other, including with the presence of troops in the eastern part of the alliance."
Dialogue of last two sessions was "positive":
"There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues, and the differences will not be easy to bridge. But it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia sat down around the same table," Stoltenberg said.
NATO called on Russia to draw down its forces from sensitive hotspots, including what the West say is "annexed" or "occupied" Crimea:
Stoltenberg indicated that the bloc called on Russia during the meeting to 'withdraw its forces' from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - presumably in a reference to Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and to Crimea - the region which broke off from Ukraine and rejoined Russia in 2014 following a Western-backed coup in Kiev.
The NATO side further "expressed serious concern" about Russia's military build-up "in and around Ukraine":
"They also called on Russia to refrain from aggressive force posturing and malign activities directed against allies and abide by all its international obligations and commitments," Stoltenberg said.
The Western alliance offered to "broaden" the scope of issues being considered in negotiations, which for now the Russian side appears to have rejected:
The NATO chief said the bloc was prepared to hold further meetings with Russia on a broad range of issues, including missiles, but said that the Russian side had indicated that they are not ready to do so at this stage.
"NATO made it clear in the meeting that we are ready to schedule a series of meetings addressing a wide range of different topics, including missiles and reciprocal verifiable limits on missiles, in Europe. From the Russian side, they made clear that they are not ready," Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg said all @Nato allies are "clear eyed about the prospect for progress" in talks with Russia. Says alliance offered Moscow to look at arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation issues.— Henry Foy (@HenryJFoy) January 12, 2022
This week's series of three meetings will wrap up Thursday in Vienna, at the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe, which includes NATO members, Russia, and Eastern European states that are uneasy over Russia's influence in their spheres.
To review, these are the key requests Russia previously submitted to Brussels and Washington in a draft security document:
In a broad outline, Russia’s stance boils down to three key points: the pullout of US nuclear weapons from Europe, the termination of the practice of deploying NATO’s conventional forces near Russia’s borders and creating its military infrastructure there and NATO’s official refusal to draw Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance.
In Moscow’s opinion, these measures will help remedy a serious imbalance in security in Europe that emerged after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. This will help considerably ease the military and political tension and rejoin the baseline principle affirmed by all of the OSCE member states at their Istanbul summit in 1999 that the security of one state or a group of states cannot be ensured at the expense of the security of other states.
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A few thoughts on the crisis from Rabobank...
Does a US that won’t fight in Europe and a Europe that can’t fight anywhere scare a Russia that can? Equally, does the threat of US financial sanctions deter Putin when they have not stopped anyone to date and would splinter the global economy, as China would surely not comply, and Europe couldn’t? These also seem a ‘nuclear weapon’ the US is unlikely to use. As such, the likely costs for Moscow are perhaps lower than the potential gains from acting on its comparative advantage —military, food, and energy— to ensure a permanent sphere of influence. In short:
- If the West blinks --and the US Secretary of State is literally Blinken-- it dismantles the global security architecture and emboldens “revisionist powers” everywhere.
- If Moscow blinks, the status quo limps along to the next pushback from one of the “revisionists”, and we see if the EU and White House learn any lessons in the meantime.
- If nobody blinks, your 2022 forecasts are already wrong. We are back to the geopolitics of the 1930’s on WW2’s starting line, and WW1’s too if this spills over into Bosnia with Russian help. (Note the deepening US military presence in Albania.)
Yes, recent wars have only happened to poor people far away who can’t fight back, but the fat tail risks of poor people not so far way being hit are of massive volatility in FX, stocks, bond yields, energy, wheat, aluminium, and potash, which means food prices most everywhere. Crucially, these are *not* too awful to materialize, just as Covid wasn’t. Yet if we are determined to avoid them regardless, then strategic studies experts argue the only logical routes are giving Russia (and others) what they want, which is destabilising, or pushing back aggressively, which is destabilising. On which cheery note, today also sees US inflation, which might have ended 2021 over 7% y/y. Who saw that coming?