On December 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry unveiled two draft texts — a “Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on Security Guarantees” and an “Agreement on Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and the Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO]”. Moscow’s stated goal is to obtain “legal security guarantees from the United States and NATO.” Moscow has requested the United States and its NATO allies to meet the Russian demands without delay.
“The two texts are not written according to the principle of a menu, where you can choose one or the other, they complement each other and should be considered as a whole,” declared Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. The second text is a kind of parallel guarantee because “the Russian Foreign Ministry is fully aware that the White House may not meet its obligations, and therefore there is a separate draft treaty for NATO countries.” The Russian maneuver is to bind NATO through the United States, the United States through NATO. There is nothing to negotiate, you have to accept everything as a whole.
Some Russian media, such as the digital newspaper Vzglyad, are already triumphant: “The world before and the world after December 17, 2021 are completely different worlds… If until now the United States held the whole world at gunpoint, now it finds itself under the threat of Russian military forces… A new era is opening, new heroes are coming, and a new Danila Bagrov [character of the patriotic mobster in the popular film Brat], raising his heavy fist and looking into the eyes of his interlocutor, asks softly again: how strong are you, American?”
An orchestrated blackmail
The Russian blackmail is explicit and is directed at both the Americans and the Europeans. If the West does not accept the Russian ultimatum, they will have to face “a military and technical alternative”, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko: “The Europeans must also think about whether they want to avoid making their continent the scene of a military confrontation. They have a choice. Either they take seriously what is put on the table, or they face a military-technical alternative.” After the publication of the draft treaty, the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against NATO targets (similar to those that Israel inflicted on Iran), was confirmed by former Deputy Minister of Defense Andrei Kartapolov (Duma Defense Committee): “Our partners must understand that the longer they drag out the examination of our proposals and the adoption of real measures to create these guarantees, the greater the likelihood that they will suffer a pre-emptive strike.”
To make things clear Russia fired a “salvo” of Zircon hypersonic missiles on December 24. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, commented on this event: “Well, I hope that the notes [of December 17] will be more convincing”. Editorialist Vladimir Mozhegov added: “What are our arguments? First and foremost, of course, our most reliable allies — the army and the navy. To be more precise, the hypersonic Zircon missile (the “carrier killer”, as it is affectionately called in the West), which makes it absurd for the United States to have a fleet of aircraft carriers. The impact of the Zircon cracks a destroyer like a nut. Several Zircons will inevitably sink an aircraft carrier. The Zircon simply does its job: it methodically shoots huge, clumsy aircraft carriers like a gun at cans.”
An article in the digital newspaper Svpressa eloquently titled “Putin’s ultimatum: Russia, if you will, will bury all of Europe and two-thirds of the United States in 30 minutes” dots the i’s: “The Kremlin will have to prove its position with deeds. It is probably only possible to force the “partners” to sit at the negotiating table by coercion. Economically, the Russian Federation cannot compete with the West. There remains war.” Military expert Konstantin Sivkov believes that “to bring the United States and NATO to the negotiating table, some kind of super weapon is needed. For the moment, Russia does not show this potential to its adversaries. But it exists. Russia has the capability to use superpowered munitions with a capacity of up to 100 megatons. […] We must repeat that we are not interested in a world without Russia, as Putin once said, and demonstrate our determination to strike if NATO expands. After that, I can assure you that they [the West] will be afraid. Nothing else can stop them. […] It is naive to rely on diplomatic procedures. […] Russia’s move is a signal that already radical measures are going to be taken. You refused, so you will have yourselves to blame…”
What is at stake
Reading the Western press, one is under the impression that nothing is happening. Westerners do not seem to understand what is at stake. They think that only the fate of Ukraine is being decided, which is of less concern to them than that of Armenia, judging by the pilgrimages of our presidential candidates. Many French officials find it normal that Russia should claim a sphere of influence. They resemble those who in 1939 believed that Hitler’s demands would be limited to Danzig. However, one only has to look at the texts proposed by Moscow to understand that the stakes are quite different.
The Russian ultimatum demands that “the following be legally established: the renunciation of any enlargement of NATO [to the east], the cessation of military cooperation with post-Soviet countries, the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from Europe and the withdrawal of NATO armed forces to the borders of 1997”. Russia and the United States commit themselves not to deploy nuclear weapons abroad and to withdraw those already deployed, as well as to eliminate nuclear weapons deployment infrastructure outside their territory. Article 4 states, in part, that “the Russian Federation and all participants which were, as of 27 May 1997, member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, shall not deploy their armed forces and armaments on the territory of any other European state in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997.” And Article 7 specifies that “the participants, which are Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, shall refrain from conducting any military activities on the territory of Ukraine, as well as of the other States of Eastern Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asia.”
This includes the fourteen Eastern European and Balkan states that have become members of NATO in the last twenty-four years: “Thus, in addition to the post-Soviet space, the Moscow initiative includes a wide range of countries located between Western Europe and Russia — mainly Poland and the Baltic States, which are targeted because additional forces of the North Atlantic Alliance have been deployed there as decided at the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016.” In short, “the Russian initiative could help the Americans to quietly leave Central and Eastern Europe,” according to the headline of an article posted by the very official think tank Russtrat. But it is not only that: “the link established between the concept of ‘fundamental security interests’ (which is introduced for the first time) and the range of missiles obliges the United States to refrain from entering our seas (mainly the Black Sea, but also those of the north: the Baltic, Barents, Okhotsk), and to stop the flights of American bombers (taking into account the real range of ‘Tomahawks’ of about 1800 km), practically over the whole of Europe and most of Asia. The same is true of Japan, for which acceptance of the Treaty clauses means the de-occupation and liquidation of American bases…”
To sum up, “the parties exclude the deployment of nuclear weapons outside the national territory and return to the national territory the weapons already deployed outside the national territory at the time of the entry into force of this Treaty.” Commentator Pyotr Akopov points out: “Russia has now drawn its red lines very clearly. [They imply] not only the refusal to expand NATO to the East, but also, as stated in the draft agreement with the alliance, the refusal “to conduct any military activity on the territory of Ukraine, as well as other states of Eastern Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asia”. He adds: “It is clear that the United States will repatriate its nuclear weapons only when the Anglo-Saxon project of world domination finally collapses, but it is good to prepare the ground… If the West does not want to notice our red lines (more precisely, if it pretends not to want to notice them), then it is primarily his problem, not ours.”
And what is Russia offering in exchange for all the concessions demanded of the West? Does it propose to evacuate Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Donbass, since it talks about returning to the situation in 1997? Nothing of the sort. In return, it says it is ready… to commit itself not to threaten American security. One remembers a joke during the Cold War: “What is ours is ours, what is yours is negotiable”.
In a word, Russia is demanding that NATO commit suicide, and that the United States be reduced to the role of a regional power. According to Vzglyad, America is in fact invited “to stand behind its Hercules columns (sic) and to keep quiet on its ‘islands’. And this means that de facto (whatever the answer to these proposals) the ‘American world’ as such for Russia has ceased to exist”. As a result, Russia will have the upper hand in Europe. The countries of Western Europe are already taken for granted, with Moscow counting on the pool of collaborators that it has cultivated for years within the European ruling elites: it has just sent them a strong signal by appointing François Fillon as director of the petrochemical giant Sibur. Deprived of American support, the “Russophobic” countries that crystallize the resistance to Moscow’s hegemony will only have to bow to the inevitable. According to Russtrat, “Of course, Poland and the Baltic countries will be unhappy. But they will probably be the only ones to oppose the American withdrawal from Central and Eastern Europe. After all, the rest of the ‘Young Europeans’ are guided by the position of the ‘core’ of the European Union [Western European countries], and they do not have stable anti-Russian complexes.”
This “core” “does not share the Russophobic and anti-Russian sentiments [of the Central and Eastern European countries], is aware of the inevitable American withdrawal from Central and Eastern Europe, and does not want to interfere. […] It is better for the United States to come to an agreement with Moscow, while offloading the problem of ensuring the security of Central and Eastern Europe onto the ‘core’ of the European Union, France and Germany, which are in favor of the EU’s ‘strategic autonomy’” Ryabkov rightly points out that the Russian initiative has “a powerful potential for the formation of European security.” On December 18, he clarified: “We propose negotiations on a bilateral basis with the United States. If we involve other countries, we will simply drown it all in talk and verbiage. I hope the Americans do not underestimate how much everything has changed, and not for the better.”
Moscow is counting on the demoralizing effect on Europe of this Russian-American negotiation on its fate from which it is excluded and on the weakness of the American side in the absence of the European allies. The European Union wanted to participate. But Moscow has adamantly imposed the bilateral format with Washington. Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov explains why: in his view, European countries are trying to participate in the negotiations in order to sabotage them. However, “the prospect of agreements depends only on the relations between Russia and the United States”. In his view, only the US authorities control the flight of their bombers near Russia’s borders and are also able to deploy US missile systems on the territory of Ukraine. While European countries do not possess weapons that could threaten Russia and are not independent in the deployment of these weapons on their territory.
The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact is never far away in the minds of the Kremlin leaders. It is also a question of status, and a reflection of Putin’s obsession with erasing the collapse of the USSR. Thus Nezavisimaya Gazeta emphasizes that “Russia has acted as the heir to the USSR, the second superpower, which considers itself entitled to negotiate with the West on an equal footing.” By negotiating as an equal with the president of the United States Putin demonstrates at the same time to the Russians that his position as the boss is recognized by the cursed Westerners. The feeling of debasement the Russians experience in their hearts by submitting to despotism vanishes when they see the humiliation of the West: foreigners too are bowing down to Putin. The regime’s propaganda knows how to play these sensitive chords.
Why this Russian ultimatum?
It is important to understand what motivated Putin to launch this challenge to Western countries. As always, Russian behavior is dictated by a careful analysis of the “correlation of forces”, which, according to Kremlin experts, has just tipped in favor of the anti-Western revisionist powers. After 20 years of preparation for war, the Russian position is considered to be stronger than ever, according to the Russtrat think tank: “In the next year and a half, Russia will considerably change the balance of global power. […] Russia’s current historical situation is unique. The state has prepared itself for the major challenges that may arise under critical pressure. Huge reserves have been accumulated, including gold. National financial and information infrastructure plans have been created and launched. Digitization has begun to encompass the entire economy, bringing it to a new level of competitiveness. The expansion of our own industrial base, including in highly sensitive high-tech areas, is proceeding in leaps and bounds, the ‘technology gap’ is closing. We have overcome critical dependence in the area of food security. […] For the past five years, the army has been the world’s leader. In this area, the ‘technological gap’ is in our favor and is only widening… Moreover, the explosion of planetary inflation is causing an energy crisis, which makes the Europeans, for the most part, much more accommodating and rules out a blockade of our energy supplies, WHATEVER WE DO.” If Russia and China coordinate their actions against Ukraine and Taiwan respectively, “everything will become much easier for us. And for China too, from which we will divert attention, which will free our hands even more…” In short, “Russia has restored its weight in the international arena to the point that it is able to dictate its own terms in the shaping of international security.” As for “the decrepit empire of the Stars and Stripes, weakened by LGBT, BLM, etc., it is clear that it will not survive a two-front war.”
On the other side the United States is facing an unprecedented crisis, with galloping inflation, supply shortages, a weak president, a society more divided than ever. As a result, according to Irina Alksnis in RIA Novosti, “Russia as well as China and other powers working to transform the world system […] have a window of opportunity to accelerate the eviction of the United States from the global throne by increasing the pressure on them. Even though the weakening of the West has been going on for some time, the current crises indicate that the process has moved to a qualitatively new level, and it would therefore be foolish not to seize this opportunity. Especially since, for our part, we have completed our own mechanisms and strategic tools — alternative to those of the West — necessary for the smooth functioning of the national economy and relations with other countries, whether it is the production of goods, monetary regulations, dissemination of information, etc…”
Hence the approach of the Kremlin: “This is not a proposal for discussion, but an ultimatum — a demand for unconditional surrender. The West has no choice but to lose face — unless it stands proudly and goes to war with Russia. Judging by the way the West has begun to show disarray on the other side, they are well aware of this.” By threatening war, stresses RIA Novosti, “Moscow is emphasizing that Russia is ready — morally, technically, and in every other sense of the word — for any development of events. And the reputation it has earned in previous years confirms that the Russians will indeed be ready to use force if they deem it necessary. It is worth recalling the words of Vladimir Putin, who stated bluntly this summer that if Russia sank the British destroyer responsible for a provocation off the coast of Crimea, there would be no major consequences: the outcry of the world press should not be counted as such […] No, this time the West will pay with its own hands.”
Obviously, war is not without risks, which, hopefully, the Russian military are trying to get across to Putin. Let’s go back to the analysis of military expert Konstantin Sivkov quoted above: since Russian conventional forces are insufficient, “we can solve the problem of neutralizing Europe and the United States only by physically eliminating them with our nuclear potential… The US and Europe will physically disappear. There will be almost no survivors. But we too will be destroyed. Unless the fate of Russia is better, because we have a large territory. Our opponents will not be able to destroy everything with nuclear strikes. Therefore, the percentage of the surviving population will be higher. However, Russia as a state may disappear after a large-scale nuclear war. It may fragment.”
But let us get back to the turning point of December 17. The trigger for the Kremlin was the misguided policy of the White House which, after the debacle in Afghanistan, multiplied the number of emissaries to Moscow this autumn, making the weakness of the United States even more obvious in Putin’s eyes: “Senior American officials have made frequent trips to Moscow. The visit of CIA Director William Burns in November was the fourth visit of a senior White House official since the Geneva meeting. It is not difficult to guess that the purpose of the CIA director’s personal visit was not at all to make demands about Ukraine, as the Western media tried to have itt, but to try to find a compromise. Faced with the collapse of international authority due to the unsuccessful withdrawal from Afghanistan, the White House was eager to find a deal with the Kremlin.”
On November 2, 2021, Burns did meet with Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and, presumably, President Putin. He is a favorite figure in the Kremlin: in 2005-2008, he was ambassador to Russia and “found common language with Putin. Sober and pragmatic, totally devoid of the messianic complex characteristic of Americans, Burns has always advocated the refusal to expand NATO eastward.” Burns’ visit was interpreted in Moscow as an indication that the policy of appeasement has prevailed in Washington and thus an encouragement to raise the stakes and “seize the strategic initiative”.
Basically, we find in these considerations a Leninist substratum. The United States and its European allies were the haves of the international order, the main beneficiaries of the existing system, which brought them privileges disproportionate to their contribution. Thanks to the crisis, their hegemony is on the decline. The formerly “proletarian” states are prevailing, under Russian leadership. Here again Putin is replaying the Cold War, this time with a happy ending.
What to do?
Westerners must first perceive the situation as it is, however unpleasant it may be for our democratic states more accustomed to futile undertakings than to ensuring their preservation. To do this, we must extricate ourselves from the Russian lie.
The first lie concerns Moscow’s alleged concerns for Russian security, the danger that NATO missiles deployed in the border countries would represent for it. It is enough to read the texts quoted above to see that the “security” concerns put forward by Moscow are only a smokescreen, that NATO itself is considered as a paper tiger, as here implied by RIA: “The Atlanticists, despite all their appetites, will not enter into open conflict with Russia, they do not want it and are afraid of it. Even reasonable Anglo-Saxon strategists understand that the West does not have the strength to keep Ukraine in its orbit for long, the laws of Russian history (like the laws of geopolitics) will always work.”
When Moscow talks about “security” one must understand “Russian domination” and “impunity”, because that is what it is all about. In the Kremlin’s view, everything it does not control can jeopardize the regime. This can be seen in Russian domestic politics, where the oases of freedom have been dried up one by one during the last decades. What Moscow fears in Ukraine is not a few NATO instructors, but freedom. It wants a disarmed Ukraine so that it can intimidate the Kiev rebels and set up a regime hated by its people, thus totally dependent on the Kremlin. Russia let Aliev launch an operation against Armenia precisely because President Pachinian had been chosen by the Armenian people against the Kremlin’s puppets. If Russia succeeds in driving the United States out of Europe, it will soon feel threatened by the freedoms of Western European countries, and under the pretext of ensuring its “security”, it will display the same determination in our country as in its own to enslave the media, to eradicate democratic institutions and independent parties. Already today, Lavrov is calling for the resignation of Stoltenberg, the Secretary of NATO, who, according to him, “is not up to his task”.
Another illusion that must be discarded is the idea of a bubbling civil society in Russia that could curb the bellicose aspirations of President Putin. Polls show that the brainwashing by the official propaganda is very effective: 50 percent of Russians surveyed consider NATO and the West in general to be responsible for the current tension. 16 per cent blame Ukraine. The few remaining opponents very rarely criticize foreign policy and hardly denounce the nauseating chauvinism emanating from Putin’s regime.
Finally, let us mention the democratic sacred cow that must be sacrificed: the absolute faith in the virtue of “dialogue”, which most Western leaders, from Florence Parly to Mario Draghi, continue to advocate in relation to Moscow. But nothing is more dangerous than these summit exchanges, which, whatever one may say, inevitably feed in Russian ruling elites either paranoia or delusions of grandeur and intoxication with power. If the West is firm, the Kremlin concludes that it wants to destroy Russia; if the West offers concessions, the Kremlin concludes that it is weak and pressure should be increased.
Very often the best policy with Russia is that of silence and distance: do nothing, say nothing and stand your ground. Clinging to dialogue at all costs, especially when Moscow keeps us at gunpoint like a madman holding a hostage, only shows our weakness and encourages the Kremlin to escalate.
Above all, we must stop giving the Cold War the pejorative connotation that it does not deserve. The French Minister of Defense Florence Parly has recently declared that Western countries must avoid escalation with Russia in order not to provoke a new Cold War. As long as we remain within these conceptual frameworks, Russia will win. It should be remembered that the Cold War began in 1946, when the West stopped caving in to Stalin, after having abandoned the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to him. It was thanks to the Cold War that the countries of Western Europe retained their freedom.
The lessons of 1946-7 are still relevant today. The pioneers of the Cold War were the British, who formed a Western bloc around the Anglo-French core and persuaded isolationist Americans to stay in Europe. In the spring of 1947, the French, Italian and Belgian governments expelled Communist ministers, aware of the threat linked to Moscow’s fifth column in Europe. This clear willingness to resist Stalin finally persuaded Washington to commit itself to European security. We could draw lessons from this experience today, instead of engaging in a childish war with Britain. But to do that, we have to learn to face the facts, to think in political terms, instead of drifting rudderless in media passions and polls. In 1946-7 we knew that freedom was worth dying for, something that is obviously forgotten today. After Munich in 1938, the West was ashamed to have abandoned Czechoslovakia into Hitler’s clutches. Today we are cowardly letting down Ukraine, but we do not even realize our dishonor, nor the danger of giving in to an aggressor. We are like the Byzantines who were discussing the sex of angels while the Ottoman forces were destroying the city walls.