As we discussed earlier, there was some sort of “confusion” about whether or not the Russians had responded to our last offer regarding the situation on the Ukrainian border. Our State Department thought they had, but Moscow denied it. That may not turn out to matter very much at this point because Vladimir Putin took matters into his own hands today and held a press conference to discuss the progress to date. Or perhaps we should say the complete lack of progress. His summary of the dialogue was brief and to the point. He said that the United States and NATO had ignored all of his primary security demands and there was no resolution in sight. However, he didn’t close the door entirely, saying that his country was still open to additional negotiations if “the interests of all parties” are taken into account. (Associated Press)
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the U.S. and its allies have ignored Russia’s top security demands but added that Moscow remains open to more talks with the West on easing soaring tensions over Ukraine.
Putin argued that it’s possible to negotiate an end to the standoff if the interests of all parties, including Russia’s security concerns, are taken into account.
“I hope that we will eventually find a solution, although we realize that it’s not going to be easy,” Putin said.
He deplored the Western refusal to consider the Kremlin’s demands for guarantees that NATO won’t expand to Ukraine, won’t deploy weapons near the Russian border and will roll back its forces from Eastern Europe.
Putin added some additional spin to the scenario, painting a picture where war might begin, but suggesting that Ukraine, not Russia, would initiate it. He proposed that if Ukraine were invited to join NATO, it might launch a military incursion to retake the Crimean region. If Russia fought back to maintain “integrity of security for all nations” (the phrase invoked in their last letter to Blinken), then Russia might find itself in a position where it would have to go to war with NATO. He asked, “Should we fight NATO then? Has anyone thought about it?”
Personally, I find myself wondering if anyone who is currently cheerleading for Ukraine to be invited into NATO has thought about it. I’m not trying to agree with the former KGB boss here, but he kind of has a point, wouldn’t you say? Just as a hypothetical, what if Ukraine sees NATO membership as a free ticket to lock horns with the Russians based on the NATO principle that “an attack on one is an attack on all?” Does that rule remain in play if a NATO member fires first and the target fires back?
I still don’t trust Putin as far as I could throw him, but thus far he seems to be holding up his end of the bargain in terms of negotiating. He just met with the Hungarian Prime Minister (a NATO member with a cozy relationship with Russia) and said that he had invited the President of France to come visit Moscow for talks. If he were to turn around and launch a massive invasion in the middle of all of this diplomatic activity he would paint himself as the absolute villain in the story. It just doesn’t seem logical or likely.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was also commenting on the situation and gave no indication that Putin would be pulling any troops back from the border or deescalating the tensions there in any way without some substantive progress in the talks.
Blinken told Lavrov that if Russian President Vladimir Putin “does not intend war or regime change,” then it was time to pull back troops and heavy weaponry and engage in serious, diplomatic discussions, the official said.
Lavrov responded that the escalation that the US was claiming was not occurring, the official said, but that it was merely Russia moving troops within its own borders. Blinken raised Russia’s troops buildup in Belarus — which US officials said could reach 30,000 by early February — but there was not an “extensive” exchange on it, according to the official.
As much as I hate to do this twice in one column, I’m going to repeat something I said near the beginning of the current tensions. Lavrov absolutely has a point here. While the troop buildup obviously looks aggressive and is a cause for concern and preparation on the part of Ukraine, as long as nobody crosses a border, where Putin stages his troops inside of his own country is his business. That’s not to say that we should all turn a blind eye or not be prepared, but it’s pretty hard to accuse him of anything unless he fires the first shot in anger.
Given all of the meetings and talks with NATO leaders that Putin is scheduling and the willingness of western leaders to meet with him, I have to wonder about NATO’s position. The Russians have continually claimed that it’s actually the United States that is “stoking war in Ukraine” and they are simply responding to potential threats near their own border. That sounds like a load of malarkey, but is it possible that Putin’s message is sinking in with some of our allies? As others have suggested, one part of Putin’s strategy might be to drive a wedge between the United States and at least some of our European allies. We would wind up looking foolish if he actually succeeds in that effort, and Joe Biden hasn’t exactly been winning over hearts and minds in Europe lately.
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