Russia said on Friday (17 December) it wanted a legally binding guarantee that the NATO military alliance would give up any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine, part of a wish list of ambitious security guarantees it wants to negotiate with the West.
The demands form a package that Moscow says is an essential requirement for lowering tensions in Europe and defusing a crisis over Ukraine, which Western countries have accused Russia of sizing up for a potential new attack – something it has denied.
But they also contained elements – such as an effective Russian veto on NATO membership for Ukraine – that the West has already ruled out.
Presenting the demands in detail for the first time, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters that Russia and the West must start from a clean sheet in rebuilding relations.
“The line pursued by the United States and NATO over recent years to aggressively escalate the security situation is absolutely unacceptable and extremely dangerous,” he said.
“Washington and its NATO allies should immediately stop regular hostile actions against our country, including unscheduled exercises, dangerous rapprochements and manoeuvres of military ships and planes, and stop the military development of Ukrainian territory,” he said.
Sam Greene, professor of Russian politics at King’s College London, said on Twitter that President Vladimir Putin was “drawing a line around the post-Soviet space and planting a ‘keep out’ sign. It’s not meant to be a treaty: it’s a declaration.”
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean this is a prelude to war. It’s a justification for keeping Moscow’s hair-trigger stance, in order to keep Washington and others off balance. Question is, how long can that be maintained, before it loses its efficacy?
Call for talks
Ryabkov told reporters that Russia was not willing to put up with the current situation any more. He urged the United States to take the proposals seriously and come up with a constructive response fast.
Ryabkov said Russia was ready to start talks as soon as Saturday, with Geneva as a possible venue, and that its negotiating team was ready.
When asked about the US response to Russia’s proposals so far, Ryabkov said: “As far as the broader picture is concerned, they haven’t said ‘no’. They haven’t said ‘yes’ to us, but they haven’t said ‘no’ either”.
Moscow handed over its proposals to the United States earlier this week amid soaring tensions over a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine.
Russia says it is responding to what it sees as threats to its own security from Ukraine’s increasingly close relations with NATO and aspirations to join the alliance, even though there is no imminent prospect of Ukraine being allowed to join.
RIA news agency summarised the key points of Moscow’s proposals as:
– To rule out further NATO expansion and Ukraine’s accession to the alliance
– Not to deploy additional troops and weapons outside the countries in which they were in May 1997 (before any Eastern European countries joined the alliance) – except in exceptional cases with the consent of Russia and NATO members
– To abandon any NATO military activities in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia
– Not to deploy intermediate and shorter-range missiles where they can hit the territory of the other side
– Not to conduct exercises with more than one military brigade in an agreed border zone, and to regularly exchange information about military exercises
– To confirm that the parties do not consider each other as adversaries, and agree to resolve all disputes peacefully and refrain from the use of force
– To commit not to create conditions that might be perceived as a threat by the other party
– To create hotlines for emergency contacts.