The Americans “really want” an immediate de-escalation with Russia, but dialogue is not possible with thousands of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, a senior NATO source representing an EU member state in Brussels told EURACTIV.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that, given the tense situation, an accident is possible at any time, even if the West is to believe Moscow’s claim that is not planning an invasion.
“Believe me, the Americans really want an immediate de-escalation with Russia,” the source said, adding that NATO knows that the direct threat is Russia but is also aware that the danger in the “wider picture” is China, which is now comfortably observing “two powerful elephants wrestling”.
“Beijing has not threatened the West strategically or militarily, but you have to predict the future, and China is not growing only commercially,” the source said.
Asked about the Ukraine crisis and Moscow’s next moves, he said only President Vladimir Putin knows what would happen, while not even the Kremlin leadership had a clue.
“Eventually, with a lot of patience and ups and downs and a lot of time, we will start to calm down at some point – but we cannot rule out an accident […],,” the source said.
At the same time, the source added, it may be a good idea if the West also “pulled Ukraine’s ear a bit”, as some in Kyiv were causing needless provocations.
“There are also problems in Ukraine, who is in power, who has the upper hand in the army…”
No invasion likely
On Russia, the NATO source estimated that it does not plan an invasion.
“To invade such a large country with such military forces [like Ukraine], you need military capabilities other than those that have been currently deployed,” the source said.
He stressed that NATO has neither an obligation nor the right to intervene militarily in Ukraine, as it is not a member of the Alliance, but things would be very different if a NATO country were attacked.
“If Russia made the mistake of attacking a NATO member state, then we would have a third world war.”
Still, the source added, Ukraine is a NATO “partner of increased opportunities”, and this means the alliance has some moral obligations, which could result in massive sanctions against Moscow.
The ‘unacceptable’ and ‘reasonable’ Russian claims
The NATO source explained that the point is to create a set of guarantees in order for both sides not to feel threatened. There are issues raised by Russia that the alliance could discuss, while some others are completely off the table and Putin already knows that, the official said.
“It is impossible to negotiate the request that Ukraine and Georgia should not join NATO. Nor will Russia tell us whether to withdraw NATO forces from Bulgaria and Romania.”
The source insisted that the issues that can be discussed are in the remit of the US-Russia strategic dialogue, NATO-Russia Council and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where Russia has friends such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.
At the same time, preconditions for the dialogue are that “the thousands of Russians who are next to Ukraine must leave”.
Asked why there were two separate proposals, from NATO and from Washington, the source replied:
“The Americans will discuss global armaments, nuclear […] they cannot speak on behalf of Europe for confidence-building measures, such as not conducting large-scale military exercises near the border.”
Suggesting a possible trade-off between irritants for both sides, the NATO source cited the example of the Aegis missile defence system in Poland and in Romania, which Moscow fears could be fitted with nuclear warheads, as well as the Russian Iskander missile system from Kaliningrad, which has a range of 5,000-6,000 km and can hit targets as far as Paris.
He also suggested other possible advancements.
“For example, to decide when and if we fly over the Baltic so that there is no case of accident […] Exercises of large army groups not to be close to borders, at specific distances, eg 500 km.”
“There are options to reduce the tension as early as tomorrow,” the source said, adding that Moscow was also in favour of a “political hotline” for communication between Putin and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
“There should also be contact and more vertical structures, let commanders speak,” the source added.
Biden administration keeps Europe informed
In contrast to the previous US administration of Donald Trump administration, the EU NATO source said, the Biden administration is constantly informing Europeans of its moves, “not in advance” but at all levels, including that of ambassadors.
“This creates a climate of unity and Brussels and Washington converge in an atmosphere of security.”
Asked about the move of some Baltic states to send weapons to Ukraine, the source said there was no NATO authorisation for this and most likely the move was greenlighted by the Americans.
Last but not least, the source said Hungarians are “nagging a lot” about their minority issue in Ukraine but warned that the atmosphere is so intense and the extent of a war crisis so large that Budapest can do nothing to stop any NATO initiative.
[Edited by Georgi Gotev/Zoran Radosavljevic]