The leak yesterday onto the pages of the Spanish daily El Pais of the contents of the U.S. written response to the Russian ultimatum on a roll-back of NATO and reorganized security architecture in Europe has prompted colleagues in the peace movement to raise higher the prospects for a negotiated settlement between Russia and the Collective West without recourse to a potentially devastating war.
In an essay published today on www.antiwar.com, Ray McGovern points to the American offer allowing Russian inspectors onto the missile sites in Romania and Poland that have been a major concern of the Russians going back more than six years. On-site inspections were a major confidence-building element in the disarmament treaties reached with Russia in the Reagan years (доверяй но проверяй – trust but verify!). It would be very helpful to see them reinstated, not only for purposes of efficacy of treaty enforcement but for a generalized relaxation of tensions that they confer through regular face-to-face meetings of expert personnel from both sides. The measure would reinstate communications channels that the United States cut starting in the Obama years with intent to isolate Russia and present it as a pariah nation to the world. That has proven to be a very misguided policy which finally may be abandoned as negotiations go forward.
Independently from the latest leaks, on the Russian side Alexei Gromyko, a recognized foreign affairs expert in his country who happens to be the grandson of the Soviet Foreign Minister about whom I wrote yesterday, has just published a thorough analysis of possibilities for the United States and Russia to agree on compromise solutions to the present confrontation that satisfy the main concerns and principles of both sides as regards reduction of security threats coming from each. On the side of the West these might include imposing neutral, demilitarized status on Ukraine and parallel concessions by the Russians as regards Belarus and Kaliningrad. I heartily recommend his paper to all readers.
It bears reminding that none of these possible compromises would have seen the light of day had it not been for Russia’s currently ‘holding a gun to the head of Ukraine,’ to use Boris Johnson’s graphic image. Only application of maximum pressure on the West focused minds in Washington and Brussels to complaints over the evolving security arrangements in Europe that Russia had been making for more than fifteen years. And this application of maximum pressure by Moscow was made possible only by its new self-confidence in its strategic parity with if not superiority over the United States and the Collective West thanks to its modernized armed forces and state of the art new strategic weapons systems that already have been partly integrated into its field units. Even the Russophobe Financial Times yesterday featured an article detailing how the Russian armed forces have been transformed in recent years. The New York Times has done similarly. We see respect replace ridicule on their pages even as regards conventional arms and without discussion of the awe inspiring new strategic weapons systems.
For those who wonder how Biden will be able to sell any compromise with the Russians to Congress, America’s current plumage display over ‘sanctions from hell’ that may be imposed on Russia for any incursions into Ukraine, the breast beating and saber rattling, including dispatch of an additional several thousand American troops will provide some cover. Moreover, it is almost certain that Biden will be able to claim at the end of the day that the United States did not betray its principles (ideology above all in American political discourse!) so that the door at NATO would remain open notwithstanding Russian objections. And likely, behind closed doors, the Pentagon will explain that Russia is armed to the teeth and possibly has first strike capability in its grasp. Then, of course, there is the China Factor, about which we will learn more tomorrow at the press conference given in Beijing by Presidents Xi and Putin following their face-to-face meeting. We are told they will roll out a joint statement on what ‘the new world order will look like.’
I have used the term ‘window of opportunity’ to explain the sudden aggressiveness of the Kremlin in pursuing a revision of the European security architecture. This concerns Russia’s present superiority in arms which may be reduced if not erased by developments on the U.S. side two or three years hence. Moreover, the defenselessness of Ukraine may also be corrected through Western technical and materiel assistance in two or three years. It concerns the electoral calendar in Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s present mandate expires in 2024. If he is to have any chance to retire, he must solve the country’s vulnerability to further NATO encroachment in the coming year or two. For his part, Alexei Gromyko very ably discusses the window of opportunity on the American side given the prospects in the November mid-term elections and the remaining time before the 2024 U.S. presidential elections get into full swing.
None of the foregoing negotiated settlement is more than a sketch of the possible and is no more certain to be realized than the war path we have discussed till now. A mishap along the way, a stumbling into armed conflict is always possible, though with each passing day that becomes less likely as all sides size one another up and appraise the consequences of their actions.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022