'Välisilm': What is behind Russia's demands for US and NATO?

A NATO flag.
A NATO flag. Source: Ardi Hallismaa

Monday's ETV's foreign policy show "Välisilm" took a deeper look into what could be behind the demands Russia recently presented to the United States and NATO.

Last week, Russia issued a series of demands to the U.S. that NATO roll back its presence on its Eastern flank and, including in the Baltics, and rule out Georgia or Ukraine joining the alliance in the future. The demands also stated that missile systems should not be allowed to be placed in locations from which it would be possible to attack the other side, along with an agreed border zone where military exercises cannot be organized.

Security expert and former Ministry of Defense official Meelis Oidsalu said Russian president Vladimir Putin has to solve one major problem - he would want to finish his military operation in Ukraine, to escalate military action, but ordinary Russians do not have any scores to settle with Ukrainians.

"And Putin needs to find this score. If we were to name the situation somehow, it would be 'Game of Scores'. There was a shout of 'Score!' from the Kremlin toward the West and now they are waiting for a response. And they heard something from Biden's new unexperienced administration and this has put us in a situation where we are discussing proposals, which are actually demands, in the North Atlantic Council. Putin needs to show that the conflict in Ukraine is actually between NATO and Russia," Oidsalu said.

Russian expert Karmo Tüür said the demands have been presented as a "take-or-leave" package. "So we are dealing with an irrational ultimatum, which is not fulfillable even by Russia. Among many things, these demands would mean the demilitarization of Kaliningrad, since one of the points is taking missiles away from territories, where they could be used against the other side. Kaliningrad is right in the middle of it," Tüür said.

"Therefore, the demands are not to be signed in their current form. They could only be signed as an act of capitulation by NATO. But as far as I know, NATO has not lost a war to Russia so these demands are not to be signed," Tüür added.

Kadri Liik, senior research fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, noted that Russia is essentially demanding something that is impossible. "They wish for the moon and stars. And they have expressed these demands publicly, which will lead many to the conclusion that this diplomatic initiative is just a smokescreen and that they are actually preparing for something else," Liik said.

"It is true that Putin is the only decision-maker in Russia and I have understood that even Russian diplomats, who have expressed a number of proposals on Ukraine, they also do not know the final goal of this diplomatic initiative," Liik added.

The West has promised to discuss these demands with Russia, but not behind the backs of their allies and partners. What can these discussions even be about?

"If this entire process was based on us having to reach a new package of agreements regarding arms control, missile control and conventional arms control, because all the other agreements had expired and were no longer valid. Now, if we take that as a base for negotiations, long ones involving specialists, then yes, that would have been something the West could have done and offered as a positive alternative for the demands, which Russia has presented," Karmo Tüür said.

Kadri Liik noted that it is known info that Biden has offered Putin an opportunity to discuss weaponry and units on the Ukrainian borders. "It is a paradigm shift that he is offering to discuss things, which no one has discussed with Russia for decades. Biden essentially admits that Russia and NATO pose a threat to each other, which I think is correct, because that is what is happening," Liik said.

"If we consider Russia to be dangerous to us, then Russia must automatically see NATO as a danger to them. But Biden's proposed scenario is very confusing. The U.S., Russia and some other major allies, no one liked this plan, including the major allies themselves," the researcher added.

So it seems that Russia is unlikely to achieve much success with its adventure. "The Russian public does not want anything like this. Russia's interests are currently elsewhere, the political regime is aging, both physically and morally. It would turn the world on its head and Russia would be even more in China's scope and I do not see that being useful to them, at all," Liik said.

Perhaps this is all some desperate move by Putin?

"I would also be desperate if I were Putin, because he has reached the very dangerous waters, which all aging dictators eventually reach. By introducing such power through language and faith to himself and his regime, he must always be strong and look bigger than his actual resources allow him to be. It is the bluff, upon which Putin's power is built," Meelis Oidsalu said.

"Vladimir Putin is 69 years old, both his parents lived very long, older than 85. But by that calculation, he might have some 10 active years left in politics, if he is helped by medicine," the expert noted.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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