Negotiations involving the United States and other western countries with the Russian Federation should be on the former's terms, and not just the latter's, as has been the case up until now, journalist and security expert Edward Lucas says.
While there is some cause for hope in sensible approaches to talks, including on weapons control and the Nord Stream pipelines, so far Europe in particular is reaping the rewards of its complacency on Russia, all of which jeopardizes the NATO and EU frontier states, including Estonia, Lucas told ERR's Tarmo Maiberg in an interview.
He said: "We should not be negotiating with the Russians on the agenda they have set, as not only is it unacceptable to the U.S. and to the Central and Eastern European countries, but also for the way in which it has been presented."
"This is mafia-style intimidation, not diplomacy," Lucas went on.
The apparent western approach of dialogue for dialogue's sake was inadequate for dealing with this, he continued.
"There's a serious problem with the way the West looks at Russia, in that we think that dialogue is good in and of itself. There's a sort of Kantian idea that if only we could discuss things with Russia, we'd be able to sort them out."
"And this is a mistake; there are serious conflicts of interest between what the West wants and what Russia wants, and we can try and manage these conflicts, but we can't talk them away," Lucas added.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, so far the set up seems to have resulted in Russia having the upper hand.
Lucas said: "Russia has won first round. As I say, these are mafia-style intimidation tactics, and the response from the West has not been one of 'stop trying to intimidate us', it was instead: 'Can we talk about your concerns?' And that was bad."
"So I feel that the responses, whether they are from the U.S., or the EU institutions or the big European countries, all failed to establish a kind of moral and psychological leadership, which would have been very welcome, so we now have to repair some of the damage," Lucas added.
Moreover, the desultory western approach had led to a split within its own ranks, with the U.S. taking the floor with Russia and Europe, leaving the EU very much relegated to the sidelines, Lucas continued.
"I'd also point out the extraordinary way in which Europe and Euro countries have been sidelined. These are discussions about Euro security, and they're happening between the US and Russia."
The phenomenon was not a new one, he said.
"The Europeans may be cross about that, but they are reaping the harvest of decades of under-spending and self-indulgence and naivete and complacency, which means they don't have a seat at the table when their interests are being discussed."
The two Nord Stream pipelines, one completed, the other about to be, was stark illustration of this, Lucas added. In the latter case – Nord Stream 2 – while it is highly unlikely to be scrapped, could be subjected to EU regulatory norms, which might, for instance, require a volume of gas received and which had flowed via Ukraine to match that which had come directly from Russia.
Another option, Lucas said, might be a rule whereby the state-owned Gazprom was not the only permitted supplier – other operators in Russia would need to be included as well.
The whole project is still something of a white elephant, as things stand, he added.
"Even Nord Stream 1 should not never have been built," Lucas said, noting that Nord Stream 2 would most likely be used as a bargaining counter.
At the same time, nothing of its like should recur, he said. "It Should be the tombstone of Russia influence in Europe, and not its totem."
Of other regions, Russia had managed its relationship with China well, while it remains to be seen what will happen with regard to the crisis in Kazakhstan and the deployment of Russian and other military personnel there.
Getting Russia to the negotiating table, while it should be on the West's terms and focus on arms control – both nuclear, conventional and even space weaponry – and getting Russia to come back to agreements it has walked away from, could also see a climb-down on U.S. over-leveraging on the still-born START III treaty.
Anything that would make Europe safer, including better foreknowledge and transparency of major Russian military exercises – and, vice versa, western ones too – was favorable in Lucas' view and is key to better security in and for Estonia and other states on NATO's eastern flank.
These are countries which, Lucas said, have a much better grasp of what they want out of negotiations with Russia than the NATO states further West tend to. Non-NATO states Finland and Sweden similarly have more skin in the game, he added.
As to Ukraine, the current conflict began eight years ago this year but its seeds were sown much earlier, Lucas noted.
While he did not think an all-out invasion of Ukraine would be something the Russian military was neither disposed towards nor up to – in terms of the amount of forces amassed near the border, which would need to be around four times their current 100,000-strong size.
That said, Putin may believe his own propaganda in seeing Ukraine as a failed, hollow, proto-fascist state, and more limited gains in hiving off parts of that country as happened with Crimea and the Donbass from 2014 – Lucas mentioned the Black Sea coastal city of Mariupol – may be a more logical approach.
The Russian plan will become clearer over time as additional pieces of the "Maskirovka" jigsaw are revealed; the permanent stationing of Russian Federation troops in Belarus may grate less on the West than would have been the case without the Ukraine crisis, he added.
The full interview can be viewed by clicking on the link above.
Edward Lucas is non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and is a former senior editor at U.K. weekly The Economist.
He is Liberal Democrat candidate in the Cities of London and Westminster parliamentary constituencies, ahead of the general election expected in the U.K. some time in 2024, and has been out door-stepping on the campaign trail already.
He is perhaps most well-known in Estonia for being the first of the nearly 90,000 people who have so far taken up Estonian e-Residency, since the scheme launched in 2014.
His published works include "The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West ", Palgrave Macmillan (2008).
Editor: Andrew Whyte