A three-part negotiating process is set to start this coming week: On January 10, Russia and the US will hold talks on security guarantees in Geneva. On January 12, Russia will discuss its security concerns and its security guarantees projects at the Russia-NATO council meeting in Brussels and at the OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna on January 13.

This diplomatic sequence could be the first step towards de-escalating tensions generated by Russia’s recent military build-up on the borders of Ukraine. Russia has put forward demands that are widely seen as non-starters for the US and NATO. And it has made these demands public, which raises the issue of Moscow’s intentions: is it really serious about these demands or are they a mere pretext to blame Washington and NATO for the failure of the talks? Or, in other words: is Russia really willing to reach a compromise or is it merely trying to push its advantage as far as possible (and admitting the possibility that the talks will fail if it does not get 100 per cent satisfaction)?

Of the two parts to the security guarantees sought by Moscow, the first which centers on NATO and Moscow’s demands that the alliance halt any expansion farther eastward is a non-starter, as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and a number of NATO member states have reaffirmed Ukraine’s right to choose its own security arrangements. 

It unlikely that Russia will accept any compromise that fails to strengthen its positions in Ukraine and elsewhere in eastern Europe (unless it sees the absence of a compromise as a bigger threat to its interests in the region). The US and NATO most probably will seek the right balance between deterrence and de-escalation to convince Russia that a more cooperative approach to security is in its own interests, including transparency and confidence-building measures, as well as arms control commitments. They will also make clear that any attempt at destabilisation would come with a cost.

Should the talks with the United States and NATO fail to deliver satisfactory results for Moscow, the Kremlin may use a range of options such as, for instance, missile deployments in Donbass, Crimea, or elsewhere as well as embarking on the course of “creating vulnerabilities” for Western countries.

If Washington opts to impose new sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, the Kremlin may feel it has reached a certain point where talking to the West makes no sense and Russia would have to activate an option of “providing its own security” that would probably imply greater costs for its own economy but also an uncomfortable security reality for others.


Russia sees ‘systemic problems in the Euro-Atlantic region’, the enlargement of NATO, the location of its military infrastructure close to Russian borders, its ‘offensive capabilities’ and the trend towards the Alliance acquiring ‘global functions’, the ‘symptoms’ of the U.S. efforts to retain absolute military supremacy (the global antimissile system, Global Strike capabilities, militarization of space). Russia views Western states and organizations as obstacles to the realization of its ambitions in former Soviet countries: ‘The position of the West that aims to oppose integration processes and to create hotbeds of tension in the Eurasian region exerts a negative influence on the realization of Russia’s national interests’. Western criticism of Russian policies in the post Soviet space, often described as neo-imperialistic, is all the more resented in Moscow that the Kremlin considers that NATO and the EU have expanded their own ‘spheres of influence’ through their enlargement and the development of wide networks of cooperative ties, including in the neighbourhood they share with Russia.

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