On 17th December 2021, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted online two proposed security guarantee agreements, which had previously been handed to the United States Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried. Russia proposed one agreement to be signed by Russia and the US, and the other to be signed by Russia and NATO.
On 10th January 2022, negotiators from the US and Russia began to discuss those proposals, followed a couple of days later by negotiators from NATO and Russia. Russia’s central demand is to stop the expansion of NATO. Russia’s principal negotiator Deputy Minister Sergey Ryabkov stated, “For us, it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never—never ever—becomes a member of NATO.” The US and NATO have responded that restricting NATO expansion is “off the table” and instead offered to discuss exercises and medium-range missiles. Undoubtedly, there are some aspects of the negotiation that are hidden from the public, but on the surface, the two sides seem to be in irreconcilable positions.
The US and NATO diplomats and experts working on this problem are exceptionally well prepared for their duties. But sometimes, the urgency of political leaders to make decisions prevents negotiators from having the time to fully explore all ideas. In that vein, the following thoughts are provided in the hope that they will help generate additional ways to think about the security dilemma in which we all find ourselves.
Russia’s security guarantee proposals to the US and NATO
The twin pillars of the Russian proposals are, first, their main requirement that NATO agree not to expand into former Soviet Republics and, second, their guiding principle that the military situation should return to what it was at the time of the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in May 1997.
The Russian proposals to the US and NATO include several other demands, but importantly they do not address some of the West’s core issues with Russia:
- They do not resolve the Russian occupation of Georgian, Moldovan, and Ukrainian territory.
- They do nothing to restrain or eliminate cyber-attacks on the US, NATO, or allied states.
- They do not propose a helpful mechanism for keeping medium-range missiles out of Europe, although they do propose the goal of restricting these weapons.
The manner and style in which the two Russian proposals were written appear hasty and poorly coordinated, perhaps indicating an internal policy development process that is under stress. For example, the Russia-NATO proposal includes an article establishing rules for withdrawal from the agreement, but the Russia-US agreement has no such provision. The wording of the article that prohibits further NATO accessions in the former Soviet space is different in each proposal. The Russia-NATO proposal allows for exceptions to the rule prohibiting the stationing of NATO troops in non-NATO countries, while the Russia-US proposal does not.
Any normal interagency process for drafting and coordinating these proposals would have resolved these and other problems between the texts before passing them to NATO and the US. The fact that they were handed over in this state could indicate that the proposals are deliberately provocative and intended to be a diversion from a Russian plan already decided. On the other hand, if the Russian side is sincerely seeking a diplomatic resolution to its security needs, it could suggest that a well-coordinated and coherent counterproposal from the US and NATO might achieve some long-term security guarantees for our own vital interests.
NATO and the US are working from a position of strength relative to Russia. They have a unique opportunity to set the conditions for security in Eastern Europe for the long term. To achieve this goal, however, it is necessary to acknowledge that Russia has legitimate security concerns about NATO enlargement. Russia is the weaker actor relative to NATO and the West by any measure – economically or militarily. Yet, it is not harmless, and a war with Russia would cost many lives and much treasure. The outcome could be a less secure Europe than we have today. So, it is in the vital national interests of the US, NATO, and Russia to find some compromise that will make both Russia and wider Europe secure.
Crafting a US/NATO counterproposal
The US and NATO should combine the two Russian proposals and counter it with a united proposal that addresses Russia’s concern about NATO expansion, rolls back Russia’s own expansion in its near abroad, and creates stable and successful states in the space between NATO and Russia. And the countries at the centre of this negotiation, Ukraine and Georgia, should be parties in signing the agreement.
The Russian leadership is wrong to believe that NATO expansion is meant to threaten Russian security, but almost everyone who examines Russian statements and history can understand why the leadership has that belief. NATO is right to declare that membership is open to Ukraine or Georgia or any state. But NATO members themselves debate the wisdom of defending this right when doing so could threaten the security not only of NATO but also the aspirant states themselves. Accession into NATO requires unanimity among the NATO members and there is clearly no consensus today that Ukraine or Georgia should become members. This reality is not enough for Russia, however, which wants written guarantees against their joining.
The US and NATO should propose a five-year moratorium on new NATO members: a moratorium that automatically extends itself until Russia, the US, or NATO withdraws from the agreement.
This technically would not violate NATO’s charter to remain open to new members, but it would address what the Russian leadership clearly claims is its central concern.
In exchange, NATO and the US should demand that Russia’s second pillar in its proposals, expressed in Article 4 of the Russia-NATO Proposal, guide further negotiations.
The wording of Article 4 in the Russia-NATO Proposal demands:
“The Russian Federation and all the Parties that were member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as of 27 May 1997, respectively, shall not deploy military forces and weaponry on the territory of any of the other States in Europe in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997. With the consent of all the Parties such deployments can take place in exceptional cases to eliminate a threat to security of one or more Parties.”
This means, for example, that no NATO troops could be present in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, or other new NATO states and that Aegis Ashore units in Poland and Romania would have to be abandoned. The article is unacceptable to NATO as written.
But Article 4 also applies to Russia. If Article 4 were strictly applied, Russian troops deployed after 1997 into Abkhazia, Ukraine, and “additional” troops in Ossetia and Crimea, as well as any troops deployed to other former Soviet Republics, would have to be withdrawn. Some Russian troops in Tajikistan, Transdniestria, Ossetia, and Crimea before 1997 could remain. Russia would have to remove Iskander missile units from Kaliningrad. In 1997, Russia was not yet conducting major annual exercises of the type it does now, involving Chinese and other foreign troops and extending into Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and other former Soviet Republics. Russia would have to cease large scale snap exercises as currently done in its western areas.
If we interpret Article 4 as a guide, however, and not an immutable rule, then trades such as the ones below could allow exceptions from the 1997 status quo:
- Crimea belonged to Ukraine in 1997, and to change that status Russia should agree to an internationally monitored vote by the residents to determine allegiance.
- In 2002, Russia and other members of the Treaty for Collective Security reformed as an international regional organisation along the lines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The continued existence of this new security organisation could offset the addition of new NATO members since 2004.
- Russia would remove troops from foreign bases not only in Abkhazia but also in Moldova and Ossetia, while NATO would remove temporary bases in Romania and Bulgaria.
- Russia would destroy disputed Iskander 9M729 cruise missiles and NATO would decommission two Aegis Ashore launch sites. Both sides would agree not to deploy medium-range missiles between the Urals and the Atlantic.
- Both sides would agree to limit major exercises in scope, frequency, and number.
- Both sides would agree to negotiate “cyber rules of the road.”
To make all this happen, Russia, the US, and NATO must invite Ukraine and Georgia to the table, so that their interests are heard, and so they can see the details of the agreement which they will be asked to support. NATO and the US will not negotiate “over the heads of sovereign states.”
Next steps by the US and NATO
Russia has already offered proposals to NATO and the US with a central demand to stop the expansion of NATO. The US and NATO have responded by offering to discuss exercises and medium-range missiles. While Russia’s proposals contain many unacceptable demands, and while exercises and missiles are important, the US and NATO should offer a substantial counterproposal addressing the larger picture of both sides’ needs, if they are to find a diplomatic solution and avoid armed conflict. The ideas below are suggested to the US/NATO side in addition to their proposals to Russia.
A US/NATO counterproposal to Russia’s security guarantee proposals of 17th December 2021:
- Russia will remove troops and return lands occupied or taken since 1991 from Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine (including Eastern Ukraine). An internationally monitored vote will determine whether Crimea becomes part of Russia or Ukraine.
- Russia will commit not to annexe any new territory from states in Europe, Caucasus, or Central Asia without the official concurrence of those states. Russia will not support any separatist groups in European, Caucasus, or Central Asian states.
- The US and NATO will commit to a moratorium on new NATO accessions for five years, with automatic five-year extensions unless Russia, NATO, or the US withdraw from the agreement (withdrawal requires one year notice).
- Russia, the US, and NATO will verifiably refrain from deploying ground-launched shorter and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles from the Atlantic to the Urals. Russia will verifiably destroy disputed Iskander 9M729 cruise missiles.
- The US and NATO will not deploy any new Aegis Ashore launch sites in Europe or third countries bordering Russia. The US and NATO will verifiably shut down and close Aegis Ashore launch sites in Poland and Romania (buildings and facilities will remain but locked with no personnel or interceptors).
- The US and NATO will not base troops in any former Soviet Republics that are not NATO members. Russia will not base troops in any former Soviet Republics except by mutual consent of Russia and the basing country.
- The US, NATO, and Russia commit to establishing a multilateral OSCE-type organisation that can monitor and investigate exercises, troop movements, and accidents on both sides of the NATO-Russia line.
- The US, NATO, and Russia will open a standing dialogue about arms control, including on weapons based on new technologies (e.g. directed energy, hyper velocity, etc).
- Russia, the US, and NATO will negotiate to establish cyber “rules of the road” with an agreement to be reached in 12 months.
- These commitments will be part of one agreement to be made between NATO, Russia, the US, Ukraine, and Georgia. All parties must agree (by whatever mechanism they choose). Withdrawal requires one year’s notice to the other parties.
The author thanks Sir Adam Thomson and Jane Kinninmont for their assistance in crafting this paper.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.
Image: Flickr, GPA Photo Archive