Russia demands Ukraine, ex-Soviet nations be barred from NATO

Moscow sets out tough terms in draft security documents submitted to the US and its allies.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says Moscow's relations with the US and its NATO allies have approached a 'dangerous point' [File: Thomas Peter/Pool/Reuters]

Russia has published draft security pacts, demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet countries and roll back the deployment of troops and weapons in central and eastern Europe.

The documents, published on Friday, also call for a ban on sending US and Russian warships and aircraft to areas from where they can attack each other’s territory as well as a halt to NATO military drills near Russia’s borders.

The proposals were submitted to the United States and its allies earlier this week and contain elements – such as an effective Russian veto on future NATO membership for Ukraine – that the West has already ruled out.

NATO’s secretary-general emphasized on Friday that any security talks with Moscow would need to take into account the alliance’s concerns and involve Ukraine and other partners.

The White House similarly said it’s discussing the proposals with US allies and partners, but noted that all countries have the right to determine their future without outside interference.

The publication of the draft pacts come amid soaring tensions over a Russian troop build-up near Ukraine that has drawn Ukrainian and Western fears of an invasion. Moscow denies plans to attack its neighbour.

After publishing the draft documents, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia’s relations with the US and NATO have approached a “dangerous point,” saying that alliance deployments and drills near Russia’s borders have raised “unacceptable” threats to its security.

Moscow wants the US to start talks immediately on the proposals in Geneva, he told reporters.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had received the Russian documents, and noted that any dialogue with Moscow “would also need to address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions, be based on core principles and documents of European security, and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners, such as Ukraine”.

He added that the 30 NATO countries “have made clear that should Russia take concrete steps to reduce tensions, we are prepared to work on strengthening confidence building measures”.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US is ready to discuss Moscow’s concerns about NATO in talks with Russian officials.

But he emphasized that Washington is committed to the “principle of nothing about you without you” in shaping policy that impacts European allies.

“We’re approaching the broader question of diplomacy with Russia from the point of view that … meaningful progress at the negotiating table, of course, will have to take place in a context of de-escalation rather than escalation,” Sullivan said at the event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

He added “that it’s very difficult to see agreements getting consummated if we’re continuing to see an escalatory cycle”.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry meanwhile said Kyiv had an “exclusive sovereign right” to run its own foreign policy, and only it and NATO could determine the relationship between them, including the question of Ukrainian membership.

It urged Moscow to re-engage with a peace process in eastern Ukraine, where some 15,000 people have been killed in a seven-year conflict between Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed separatists.

The draft Russian pacts – a Russia-US security treaty and a Russia-NATO security treaty – would also oblige Washington and its allies take an obligation to halt NATO’s eastward expansion to include other ex-Soviet republics, including rescinding a 2008 promise of membership to Georgia.

They would also preclude the US and its allies from setting up military bases on the territories of Ukraine, Georgia and other ex-Soviet nations which are not members of NATO.

Russia’s draft also envisages a pledge not to station intermediate-range missiles in areas where they can strike the other party’s territory, a clause that follows the US and Russian withdrawal from a Cold War-era pact banning such weapons.

Some Western political analysts suggested Russia was knowingly presenting unrealistic demands which it knew would not be met to provide a diplomatic distraction while maintaining military pressure on Ukraine.

“Something is very wrong with this picture, the pol [political] side appears to be a smokescreen,” Michael Kofman, a Russia specialist at Virginia-based research organization CNA, wrote on Twitter.

Sam Greene, professor of Russian politics at King’s College London, said Putin was “drawing a line around the post-Soviet space and planting a ‘keep out’ sign”.

“It’s not meant to be a treaty: it’s a declaration,” he said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean this is a prelude to war. It’s a justification for keeping Moscow’s hair-trigger stance, in order to keep Washington and others off balance.”

President Vladimir Putin raised the demand for security guarantees in last week’s video call with US President Joe Biden. During the conversation, Biden voiced concern about a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and warned him that Russia would face “severe consequences” if Moscow attacked its neighbour.

US intelligence officials say Russia has moved 70,000 soldiers to its border with Ukraine and is preparing for a possible invasion early next year. Moscow has denied any intention to attack and accused Ukrainian authorities of planning an offensive to reclaim control of rebel-held eastern Ukraine – an allegation Ukraine has rejected.

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine began after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. It has killed more than 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine’s industrial heartland called Donbas.

Source: News Agencies