From, Dec. 20, 2021, Condensed text:

. . . This is the first time that draft treaties so closely reflect the [Russian] authorities’ ideas on the world order without any attempt to anchor those concepts in reality. Vladimir Putin is firmly convinced (and has publicly stated so several times) that Washington is the main and only source of power in NATO, while the other [members] are doomed to carry out American orders, no questions asked. Those who are at least somewhat familiar with NATO’s system of interrelations and their difficult history know perfectly well that even though the US undoubtedly plays a leading role in the alliance, it is nevertheless forced to make considerable effort to reach consensus within NATO. Sometimes, [the US] makes significant concessions.

Moscow, on the other hand, has decided to demonstrate for the first time in history that the opinions of other NATO members besides the US mean nothing to it. Basically, it decided to enshrine the [Russian] leader’s belief in the text of an international treaty. And Russia is being on the level when it proposes that the US vouch for all of NATO: “The United States of America shall undertake to prevent further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and deny accession to the alliance to the states of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

Moreover, Moscow intends to conduct negotiations solely with Washington.” “We are proposing holding negotiations in a bilateral format with the US. If we get other states involved, we’ll simply drown in debates and semantics,” Ryabkov said, casually insulting America’s [NATO] allies. Meanwhile, official Washington has repeatedly stated that it does not intend to hold negotiations concerning NATO behind its allies’ backs.

As for the main content of the documents drafted by Moscow, the gist boils down to the fact that the former Soviet republics must turn into some sort of zone of Russia’s privileged interests. The US and other NATO states must not only pledge never to expand the alliance eastward; they must also promise not to conduct any military activities on Ukrainian territory, [or that of] other East European states, the Transcaucasus or Central Asia (the US must also separately pledge to refrain from “any military cooperation” with these countries).

So the Kremlin’s idea is to deprive of sovereignty not only NATO countries, but the former Soviet republics as well. Here, it is fitting to recall that NATO’s military cooperation with CIS countries, which it must now refrain from, started almost immediately after the collapse of the USSR as part of a specially designed program, Partnership for Peace. Some [CIS] states continue to successfully participate in it to this day.

[Another factor] that would fundamentally alter military ties and Europe’s entire security architecture is the proposed obligation of NATO countries not to deploy their Armed Forces or weapons on the territory of all other European countries besides those that had been deployed there as of May 27, 1997. Thus, it’s being proposed to turn back the clock to the day the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed.

Readers are reminded that in this document, NATO members pledged only to refrain from deploying additional “substantial combat forces.” At the same time, [the document] does not specify what forces are considered “substantial.” Now, as far as we can tell, Moscow is demanding [that NATO] remove all military infrastructure from Eastern Europe and all contingents from countries that joined the alliance after 1997. Namely, this refers primarily to US missile defense installations in Poland and Romania. And, of course, the four multinational battalions that were deployed in the Baltic states and Poland after Russia annexed the Crimea and started a “secret war” in the Donetsk Basin. These battalions were intended to show “frontline” countries that major NATO states would have sufficient political will to protect “newbie” NATO members in case of Russian aggression. Now, Moscow is demanding that the US, Canada, Germany and Great Britain abandon their intention to show their willingness to participate in collective defense.

Finally, Russia is proposing that the US radically overhaul its nuclear strategy in Europe without even trying to maintain a semblance of equal demands for appearances’ sake. “The parties shall refrain from deploying nuclear weapons outside their national territories and return such weapons already deployed outside their national territories at the time of the entry into force of the [Founding] Treaty to their national territories. The parties shall eliminate all existing infrastructure for deployment of nuclear weapons outside their national territories.”

The presence of US nuclear weapons in Europe is one of NATO’s foundations. The 200 American unguided bombs that are deployed in six European states constitute a very modest military potential compared to the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US. Such an arsenal fades in comparison to the number of nuclear weapons that were deployed in Europe during the cold war. However, these bombs remain a symbol of the nuclear umbrella – i.e., the US’s security guarantees to Europe.

The Nuclear Planning Group is one of the alliance’s most important bodies. [As part of that group], the defense ministers of the dozen participating countries determine NATO’s policies in this area (which is believed to be fundamentally important). The US’s allies have always reacted rather painfully to the possibility of withdrawing nuclear weapons. Suffice it to recall how negatively West European countries reacted at one time to Reagan’s willingness to adopt a program on the complete elimination of nuclear weapons [in Europe] during his meeting with Gorbachev in Reykjavik. Thus, Russia is proposing that the US destroy a pillar of Euro-Atlantic integration with its own hands.

Silver lining.

Nevertheless, the Russian projects still have a few points worth discussing. These are points concerning military confidence-building measures in Europe, as well as between Russia and the US. One example is the proposal that NATO and Russia agree to exclude the deployment of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles in areas from which they are capable of hitting targets in each other’s territory. At the same time, it would be necessary to determine whether that would include the infamous 9M729 missile, the deployment of which was used as a pretext by Washington to exit the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate- and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF) [see Vol. 71, No. 31, pp. 3‑7].

Even more interesting is Russia’s proposal to limit the flights of heavy bombers or the presence of warships outside national airspace or national territorial waters [respectively] from which they could strike targets on the territory of the other party. Undoubtedly, implementing these initiatives would result in a significant overhaul of all existing mutual deterrence mechanisms. Russia, for example, would have to stop its by-now regular strategic bomber flights “around the corner”: skirting the Scandinavian Peninsula to the Faroe Islands, from where Russian jets simulate cruise missile strikes against American territory. Similarly, the Americans would have to abandon flights over Europe.

Meanwhile, restrictions on warships don’t look very equal. The Americans would have to stay out of the Black and Baltic Seas. For its part, Russia has basically no surface warships left that would be capable of reaching the coast of the continental US.

Without a doubt, improving mechanisms for preventing incidents on the high seas and in the air would go a long way toward improving the military and political situation. At the same time, Russia is proposing to create hotlines that would connect NATO countries with Moscow. Last but not least, another proposal that deserves attention is one that calls for refraining from holding military exercises and other military activities at higher than the brigade level in a zone of agreed-upon width and configuration from the borders of Russia and Belarus to those of NATO countries. However, the proposal does not mention the Russian-Ukrainian border, since a [Russian] troop buildup there is what sparked the current crisis in the first place.

Shock without therapy.

To summarize, only a small part of the draft agreements proposed by Russia can serve as a basis for negotiations. At the same time, Sergei Ryabkov insists that [Russia’s] “partners” must adopt Russia’s initiatives as a package: “Both texts are not drafted as an a la carte menu, where you can pick and choose one or the other; they are complementary and must be viewed as a whole.”

But if that is the case, the projects have no prospects whatsoever. The US and NATO will most likely reject this “set menu.” Clearly, Moscow understands this. So why present these initiatives, then?

Analysts who specialize in finding rational explanations for the Kremlin’s escapades see the drafts as a sort of shock therapy for the West. “Judging by the proposed mechanism of impacting Russian-US relations, the Russian proposal is reminiscent of using a defibrillator – i.e., a desperate high-energy [electric] shock to revive a patient,” believes Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. “So presumably, the Kremlin believes that these relations are dead, that they’ve hit rock bottom, and the last chance now is to try to restart the engine with radical measures.”

In fairness, it should be noted that in this context, the shock part for [Russia’s] opponents is the threat of war against Ukraine; meanwhile, the unacceptable proposals merely add to that threat as an ultimatum. They are not a defibrillator, but rather a taser intended to immobilize our “partners.” This would explain the remarks of Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko, who said that if the Russian proposals are rejected, “We will also switch to a regime of creating counterthreats, but then it will be too late to ask us why we decided to do that and why we deployed certain [weapons] systems in a given territory.”

At the same time, we can only guess as to the real source of this military hysteria and litany of threats. The arguments voiced by Moscow – [that it is doing this because of] NATO expansion, [the alliance’s] “military takeover” of Ukraine and the deployment of weapons systems on [Ukrainian] territory that present a threat to Russia – are strictly hypothetical in nature.

It’s perfectly clear that neither Georgia nor Ukraine will join NATO in the next 10 years. The US and NATO are carrying out very modest projects in Ukraine, and not a single official document talks about an intention to build military infrastructure in territories that border Russia, not to mention the deployment of weapons systems. Such arguments work for [Russian] television propaganda to mobilize viewers at home. But the Kremlin has to know the true cost [of such threats].

I suspect that the roots of this hysteria lie in the serious strategic blunder that [Russia] made in 2014. In embarking on its Ukrainian misadventure, the Russian leadership expected that if it succeeded, the West would tacitly accept the new balance of forces, as was the case with the Russian-Georgian war. But everything turned out differently. Together with NATO’s increased military activities, [the West] has maintained a pretty tough international isolation of the Kremlin. It can be assumed that Moscow is now trying to force [the West] to talk to it by threatening war.

In that case, the proposed documents are not even a starting bargaining position – they offer too little to serve as a foothold. Essentially, they are a laundry list of the changes that have taken place in Europe over the past 30 years that get under the Kremlin’s skin and which, according to it, must be abandoned. It’s likely that the Americans will outline their approaches this week, which will probably differ greatly from Russia’s.

Then the Kremlin will have to make a choice: It can either sit down at the negotiating table, where its current projects will most likely be rejected, or it can give Washington a decisive rebuff and continue to raise the stakes, inevitably drawing closer to a military denouement.