NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has just finished an address and virtual press conference on NATO and the U.S. State Department separately presenting their written responses to Russia’s security demands of the past couple months.
The Russian demands include a pledge for NATO not to admit Georgia and Ukraine, both which border Russia, into the military alliance, to guarantee that the U.S. and NATO not base missiles in Ukraine within a few minutes’ striking distance of Moscow, and to withdraw forces and military equipment from some of the fourteen Eastern European nations brought into NATO since 1999. Those are reported to have been Russia’s demands. But there has been a disturbing lack of transparency on both sides.
The State Department has insisted that Russia not release or divulge the contents of the response it delivered to Russia within the past two hours, and today Russian government news media report that Russia has agreed to that stipulation.
It is highly significant that the American ambassador to Russia delivered the U.S. response to the Kremlin late at night Russian time (the delivery wasn’t confirmed until that time at least), as it is that the NATO secretary general was the first Western official to publicly speak about the U.S. and NATO responses, although he spoke at night Belgium time, whereas it was the middle of the workday for Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden.
Stoltenberg began his talk by, rather than addressing Russia’s concerns over the steady U.S. and military buildup all along its western flank, increasing by the day (the U.S. has just delivered 300 more Javelin missile systems to Ukraine), insisting Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. What he was referring to was Crimea (and possibly the Donbass), the independent political entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Transnistria. There are 1,500 Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria and Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (reinforced since the Georgian-Russian war of 2008). Crimea has been part of Russia since 2014.
What Stoltenberg did by not mentioning them but the NATO partners who claim them as “occupied territories” (the exact terms used by the U.S. and NATO), is to cast Russia as the aggressor in all four cases, a military occupier. In plain language he, on behalf of the collective West, gave Russia an ultimatum to retreat from the above four locations. Most ominously, he laid stress on NATO’s Article 5 collective military response mechanism. He also highlighted the fact that President Biden recently announced the activation of the first tranche of 8,500 U.S. troops for service with the 40,000-troop NATO Response Force, a combat-ready, rapidly deployable strike force.
The sole consolation he offered was more talk in several formats. Not a single compromise on anything specific. Far from attempting to even symbolically assuage any of Russia’s concrete security concerns, the U.S. and NATO are issuing diktats to Russia as above.
By delivering the two responses to the Russian government at night, the West has assured its narrative reaches the world several hours before Russia can respond.
The prognosis for peace is as dire as it can be.