In the three decades since the Soviet Union was dissolved, Russia and the United States’ current bilateral relations stand at a slippery ground, one that shows signs of the rivalry seen between them during the Cold War period. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has described their current ties as probably “the most dangerous it’s been in 30 years”.
Russia’s aggressive foreign policy stance in Europe, often using its military clout, warnings of a complete break up of relations, the exponential increase in meetings at all governmental levels all point in this direction.
Phone calls and talks between Russian and US presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden have often ended in vocal expressions of differences. Russia’s Ukraine buildup has left Biden threatening with sanctions “like none Putin’s ever seen.” And Putin has responded by calling them a “colossal mistake.”
The January 10 talks in Geneva, aimed at reaching a solution in Ukraine, followed by several other meetings in Europe seems to magnify their conflicting stance and expectations.
The Geneva talks, held on January 10, were the first in a series of discussions to take place in Europe this week. After this, Russia-Nato talks happened on January 12 and this will be followed by a meeting in Vienna of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Thursday.
For the US, the talks serve as a diplomatic channel to stop a major war in Europe, which would be consequential if the Kremlin invades Ukraine. They also aim at reaching solutions through peaceful means. For Russia, they mean bringing Washington to a negotiation table and putting forth demands.
The talks, extremely crucial for the future of Ukraine, as well as the political dynamics of the continent, showed no signs of the two sides narrowing their differences.
The main reason for this has been Russia’s demands that the US just simply couldn’t accept. At the end of the eight-hour talks in Geneva, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman said the security proposals by Russia are “simply non-starters.” Several US officials say these demands were designed to be rejected and used as a pretext to use the military.
The sentiment is not quite different on the Russian side. “Unfortunately we have a great disparity in our principled approaches to this. The US and Russia in some ways have opposite views on what needs to be done,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.
The US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Greenfield told Al-Jazeera she “wished to believe” Russia’s claim of not invading Ukraine was true. “But everything we have seen so far indicates that they are making motions in that direction,” she said during a press conference at the UN’s headquarters in New York.
“What is unfolding this week is a reminder that there was nothing permanent about the security disposition of post-Cold War Europe,” The New York Times said in a report.
What are both sides demanding?
The US wants to stop Russia from invading Ukraine, taking back its ways of expansion and influencing its allies, especially through military means. It has also urged Russia to return to the Minsk accords of 2014 and 2015, which aimed at ending a war between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists.
Russia, on the other hand, is more ambitious with its demands. It wants a NATO reform, and the organisation to pull its forces out of the former Soviet Union nation. It is also against Ukraine joining the alliance. Apart from this, the Russian side wants NATO to not deploy any large forces with its eastern member, as it did in 2014 when Russia captured Crimea and ended military assistance to Ukraine by either NATO or the US.
American reactions to Russian demands
US Deputy Secretary of State Sherman has said her country would not allow anyone to slam NATO’s open-door policy, which has been central to the alliance. “We will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO,” Sherman highlighted.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said they are ready for any Russian military action and invasion would be met with massive economic sanctions from both the states and Europe.
Russia-US ties since Biden
Russia has been taking the aggressive side in the face of a more diplomacy-focused Biden administration. Despite Russian actions, the current US administration seems to constantly agree to engage with the Kremlin to find a common ground. US threats have so far remained restricted to words, whereas Russia has shown a more action-oriented approach.
The threat to national security by each other’s countries has been a common theme. Russia’s rhetoric to blame the West to protect its national security, by means of defence, has been increased. On the other hand, the US has seen more tangible threats especially in the sphere of cybersecurity. The US has accused hackers originating from Russia to target political parties and other federal areas.
The Biden administration has also been vocal in criticising the human rights violations carried out by Russia. The imprisonment of Alexey Navalny, Putin’s most prominent political opponent, is a case in point.