'Russia is Back': Moscow Won't Back Down, Ending Era of NATO Expansion is Possible, Observers Say
Russian President Vladimir Putin on 23 December held an annual press conference with a special focus on Russo-American talks over security guarantees on NATO's non-enlargement. CSM correspondent Fred Weir and international affairs analyst Gilbert Doctorow have explained what is behind Putin's message to NATO.
President Putin emphasised on 23 December that national security is Russia’s number one priority, condemning Western countries for breaking their vow that NATO would not expand eastward.
The Russian president stressed that the USSR had done everything to build normal relations with the United States and the West: American specialists and CIA personnel received access to Soviet military facilities and the government. However, since the 1990s there have been five waves of NATO enlargement, with the alliance bringing its military infrastructure and missiles to Russia's doorstep, according to Putin.
Earlier this month, Moscow provided to the US and the EU with a draft agreement on guarantees of NATO non-expansion towards Russia's borders. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published the draft treaty on its website on 17 December. During his annual presser, Putin revealed that the US had signalled readiness to start security talks in Geneva in early 2022, adding that both sides had picked negotiators.
23 December 2021, 10:34 GMT
Is Kiev Preparing Third Military Op Against Donbass?
Tensions between Moscow and Washington followed US media reports suggesting that Russia was going to "invade" Ukraine. Although the Kremlin had repeatedly shredded the assumption as nonsensical, the issue was raised again during President Putin's video conference with his American counterpart, Joe Biden, earlier this month.
Putin warned Biden against pinning the whole blame on Moscow, stressing that NATO has been beefing up its presence in the Eastern European state, while Kiev is continuing to defy the Minsk agreements with regard to the breakaway Donbass region.
On 21 December, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told a ministerial gathering that private US military firms had delivered tanks with unidentified chemical components
to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman, in close proximity to Ukraine's breakaway Donbass region, for apparent provocations. The Pentagon denied that US companies are preparing chemical provocations in Ukraine.
During his annual presser, the Russian president noted that there is an impression that a third military operation is being prepared in Ukraine.
Putin's concerns have merit, according to Fred Weir, Russia correspondent for the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor (CSM). There is a possibility that the US-backed Kiev regime has decided to repeat last year's Nagorno-Karabakh scenario, the journalist believes.
"There would be a temptation there for Kiev, because of what happened in Azerbaijan and Armenia last year", says Weir. "I'm sure that encouraged a lot of people in Kiev to think we could do that too here. And since the political situation in Kiev is clearly deteriorating, it's possible that forces there, people there would think a war would be a great distraction".
According to Weir, a third military operation by Kiev against Donbass would be fraught with the risk of a large-scale escalation.
11 December 2021, 14:00 GMT
Tensions Over Ukraine Caused by NATO's Expansionism
During his presser, Vladimir Putin underscored that the ongoing tensions in Ukraine are the product of NATO's policies in the region
"Our actions will depend… on the unconditional guarantees of Russian national security", said the Russian president. "We made it clear that NATO's expansion to the east is unacceptable. The US is on our doorstep with its missiles. How would Americans react if we placed our missiles at the US border with Canada or Mexico?"
In response to the NATO military build-up in Ukraine, the Kremlin signalled on 20 December that the deployment of various types of weapons in close proximity to Russia would require steps "to balance the situation", adding that the alternative to further NATO escalation in the region would be Russian "military-technical and military responses"
. Earlier in the day, Russian diplomats warned that Moscow is waiting for Washington's answer to its proposals for security guarantees.
Moscow's rhetoric appeared to be a sort of gamble, but Putin's confidence during the presser confirmed that there is "nothing ill-considered in what is going on now in presenting this ultimatum to the West", according to Gilbert Doctorow, an international relations and Russian affairs analyst.
"The confidence and the calm that we saw today in Mr Putin's handling of these issues of revising the European architecture during his press conference comes… from confidence in the strategic superiority that Russia has achieved by new weapons systems over the United States and the tactical superiority that it has achieved within Europe from other new systems that it has put in place", the analyst says.
According to Doctorow, Russia will have a strong hand in the forthcoming security negotiations with the US and will not back down if Washington defies Moscow's proposals.
20 December 2021, 10:08 GMT
'Mood in NATO HQ Has Changed'
"Some kind of clear undertaking to end the era of NATO expansion seems to me possible", believes Fred Weir. "I wouldn't have said so a year ago, but for some reason, the conversation has changed… What are the reasons? I think in the West, they've understood that Russia is back".
Weir reveals that a CSM correspondent was recently sent to NATO's headquarters to talk about Russia's security proposals. According to Weir, the correspondent was surprised to find people saying: "Yes, we probably underestimated the Russians. We didn't pay enough attention to their concerns". According to Weir, one wouldn't have encountered that rhetoric a year ago.
"There's quite a lot in the US media, an awful lot of new discussion about this, which implies that a lot of people are taking it seriously", he says. "And maybe in the West, particularly in the United States, where they have so much domestic political disarray, where the country's strategic incoherence was revealed with that debacle in Afghanistan – maybe there is a chance there will be some rethinking. And that would be very good".
The Russia-US security talks will definitely be the event of the year, according to Gilbert Doctorow. He notes that it is also quite notable that Moscow made the drafts of its security treaties public.
"Those were quite surprising in the extent of change, that were in fact a rollback of the security provisions to 1997, the period before NATO began its expansion to the east", the analyst says. "So those were quite striking terms that Russia intended to negotiate primarily with the United States and secondarily with NATO".
Although the draft triggered a heated debate in the media, Putin's presser dotted the i's and crossed the t's with regard to the matter, according to the analyst:
"It is quite important that President Putin used the press conference to calm things down and to explain that he is encouraged by the American response and willingness to enter into negotiations, which will take place in January", Doctorow concludes.