After an East-West diplomatic marathon that led from Geneva to Vienna via Brussels, Europe is back to square one: in the Ukraine crisis created by Russia, everyone is once again turning to the Kremlin, awaiting the next decision of President Vladimir Putin.
A week of talks with Russia has not visibly reduced the likelihood of military escalation, but neither is escalation inevitable. However, the mood turned gloomy.
Even before the end of the series of planned talks, the Russian negotiators took stock on Thursday: failure. The West was unwilling to comply with the important Russian demands, so further consultations were no longer useful. “If we have no indication that there is at least a chance of success, […] I don’t see any reason to sit down together in the next few days and resume the same talks,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rjabkov said. The soldiers would present a number of options to Putin in case the situation would get worse, Rjabkov said.
Read also : If Russia invades Ukraine, what would it look like?
At that time, the 57 countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) were still meeting in Vienna. The American ambassador to this organization, Michael Carpenter, said: “The drum of war is loud and the rhetoric is rather strident.”
hundred thousand soldiers
Russia has amassed 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine and wants guarantees that NATO will not expand, especially not with the former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine. NATO is also being ordered by Russia to withdraw army and equipment from Eastern European countries that joined the alliance after 1997. The demands are so extreme that Russia suspects it does not intend to negotiate, but simply to fabricate an excuse to attack Ukraine.
So for a while it seemed like the end of diplomacy, especially when it emerged on Friday morning that Ukrainian ministries had been hit by a cyberattack. Experts assume that a Russian offensive will start just like that. On Friday evening, the United States also said that Russia had already positioned saboteurs in Ukraine. They would pose as Ukrainians planning an attack on Russia, which would give Russia a motive to attack Ukraine.
Door for consultation a crack
Yet the Russian foreign minister has kept the door open for consultations. Sergei Lavrov on Friday demanded a written response from the United States to the requests that Russia also transmitted in writing. And then also a little quickly, for example in the course of next week. The Kremlin also knows that the Western response on paper cannot differ from the verbal messages of the past week.
The marathon of consultations began Sunday with an American-Russian dinner in Geneva and continued Monday at the American embassy. On Wednesday, a Russian delegation appeared at NATO. NATO offered arms control talks, the Russians said they could not respond immediately. On Thursday, the conversation shifted to the OSCE, but Russia does not take this forum seriously. If Russia is still in business, the implicit message was addressed to its main interlocutor, the United States.
Ukraine analysis page 12-13
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on January 15, 2022
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 15, 2022