Note: The author provides a long and comprehensive analysis of what kinds of concessions both US/NATO and Russia could provide to reach agreement on both the immediate issue of Ukraine and the larger issue of pan-European security as well as the possible recognition of spheres of influence for US, Russia and China that could form the basis of long-term peace and stability in international relations. Below is a significant excerpt but I highly recommend reading the full article at The National Interest at the link provided. Your thoughts on Pyne’s ideas are welcome in the comments section. – Natylie
….Since becoming president, Biden has alluded to his desire to improve and “reset” relations with Russia. Accordingly, rather than inadvertently provoke an undesired war, he should seize the opportunity Putin has provided to restructure Europe’s security architecture and establish a new détente with Moscow. Such an agreement might, for example, ensure Ukraine’s continued independence in return for Ukraine’s adoption of a new federal constitution that allots additional autonomy to its oblasts/regions and legally codifies the rights of Russian citizens who reside in eastern Ukraine. As part of this compromise peace agreement, the United States, NATO, and Ukraine would also formally recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea, whose population is over two-thirds ethnic Russian, and which was part of Russia until 1954.
In response to my previous article arguing for the recognition of Russian, Chinese, and U.S. spheres of influence, a Russian think tank, which appears to represent the Kremlin’s views, denounced my proposal for the United States to leave NATO in exchange for a Russian withdrawal from the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which serves as its de-facto military alliance with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as “a trap.” Accordingly, rather than make U.S. acceptance of Russia’s draft security agreement conditional upon a Russian departure from the SCO, U.S. acceptance of Russia’s proposed security agreement should be conditioned upon the signing of a U.S.-Russia Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance like the one that Russia concluded with the PRC over two decades ago.
Such an agreement would serve as the centerpiece of a new European security architecture that could end what has been called “the Second Cold War” between the United States and Russia. It would likely redefine U.S.-Russian relations by forging a grand strategic partnership between the two nuclear superpowers and ushering in a new era of mutual cooperation. If U.S. leaders began to see Russia as a potential strategic partner rather than as an adversary, they would likely be much more willing to offer the compromises necessary to ensure a peaceful resolution of the current standoff over Ukraine. Assuming the United States then ceased deployments of its military forces in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, such a friendship agreement with Russia would greatly reduce the chances that the United States would either be dragged into a war with Russia and China or face the threat of an adversarial nuclear first strike.
Biden could also make U.S. approval of Russia’s security agreement conditional upon other concessions, such as a Russian commitment to significantly reduce its carbon emissions in furtherance of the Biden administration’s climate change agenda. The United States would agree to withdraw all its military forces from Eastern Europe in exchange for Russia agreeing to return to full compliance with the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty limitations on troop levels and the deployment of heavy weapons in Europe as well as returning its troops massed on Ukraine’s borders to their bases. In addition, the United States and Russia could agree to reinstate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which the United States left in 2019. This could be followed by the signing of a U.S.-Russia Free Trade Agreement, meaningful military-technical cooperation, and the establishment of a joint U.S.-Russian missile defense shield in Europe, which Putin called for back in 2000. Military-technical cooperation between NATO and Russia, perhaps via the NATO-Russia Council, would also be encouraged. Russia and NATO could also implement further confidence-building measures and joint military exchanges designed to increase cooperation, trust, and friendly relations between Russia and NATO.
In return for Russia’s consent that the Baltic republics remain a part of NATO, the United States would agree to the construction of a land bridge/elevated road and rail highway through southern Lithuania that connects Russia’s ally Belarus (and thus Russia itself) to Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave. The United States could agree to withdraw all its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe in exchange for Russia’s agreement to denuclearize and withdraw all Russian nuclear-capable bombers as well as ballistic, hypersonic and cruise missiles from its Kaliningrad enclave and not station any ground or air-launched nuclear weapons outside of the territory of the Russian Federation. However, if Russia insisted on the departure of the Baltic states from NATO as the price of a peace agreement, the United States might agree providing Russia issue a written guarantee of the independence of the Baltic states with their neutrality ensured by international treaty (as was done with Austria under the Austria State Treaty of 1955).
As part of this agreement, the Biden administration should also offer to recognize a Russian sphere of influence over all the former Soviet republics (with the exception of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) perhaps in addition to Serbia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya in exchange for Russia’s recognition of a U.S. sphere of influence over the Western Hemisphere, Western Europe, and Japan. Both sides would agree to refrain from sending their military forces, establishing military bases, or providing military assistance to any country within the other’s sphere of influence, which would serve to cut off Russian support for anti-American regimes in the Western Hemisphere including Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua and ensure the withdraw of all Russian military personnel and advisors from those countries. Eastern Europe would remain outside both the U.S. and Russian spheres of influence with both great powers agreeing not to deploy troops there. Such an agreement might serve to guarantee peace between the two nuclear superpowers for many years to come. To help ensure Republican support for approval of the new U.S.-Russia Friendship Treaty by the U.S. Senate, Biden should declare a state of presidential nuclear/missile defense/EMP emergency to re-allocate hundreds of billions of dollars worth of unused federal funding from his recent Covid-19 relief and infrastructure legislation for critical defense priorities to restore the nuclear balance of power and help ensure Russia honors its agreements with the United States.
Following the collapse of the USSR, U.S., Russian, and NATO leaders pledged their support for the lofty goal of creating a new Euro-Atlantic security community stretching from “Vancouver to Vladivostok.” One of the objectives of this new U.S.-Russia strategic partnership would be the eventual abolition of the NATO, CSTO, and SCO military alliances and their replacement with an enhanced pan-European collective security organization for the fifty-six members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), after which Putin’s initiative for greater economic integration between the EU and the EEU might proceed uninhibited. If Russia were to leave the SCO and cease all military-technical cooperation with China, then the United States could agree to leave NATO, withdraw all its troops, and close its military bases in Europe.
At the same time, the United States should sign a non-aggression pact and sphere of influence agreement with China in which the U.S. recognizes a Chinese sphere of influence over Mongolia, North Korea, Taiwan, and the South China Sea, perhaps along with parts of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and southern Africa in return for China recognizing the same U.S. sphere of influence that Russia agreed to recognize. Both the United States and China would commit not to deploy their military forces, establish military bases, or provide military assistance to any country within the other great power’s sphere. Nations within or outside the U.S. and Russian spheres of influence could continue to participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative if they so desire. Such sphere of influence agreements would serve to formalize the respective U.S., Russian, and Chinese “redlines,” thus greatly reducing the chances of the outbreak of a great power war and forging a more stable and secure tripolar international order to replace the dangerous and unstable bipolar international—which includes NATO and the United States Pacific allies arrayed against the Chinese-led SCO, in which Russia serves as a junior partner—on the other.
The CIA is overseeing a secret intensive training program in the U.S. for elite Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel, according to five former intelligence and national security officials familiar with the initiative. The program, which started in 2015, is based at an undisclosed facility in the Southern U.S., according to some of those officials.
The CIA-trained forces could soon play a critical role on Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russian troops have massed in what many fear is preparation for an invasion. The U.S. and Russia started security talks earlier this week in Geneva but have failed thus far to reach any concrete agreement.
While the covert program, run by paramilitaries working for the CIA’s Ground Branch — now officially known as Ground Department — was established by the Obama administration after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and expanded under the Trump administration, the Biden administration has further augmented it, said a former senior intelligence official in touch with colleagues in government.
By 2015, as part of this expanded anti-Russia effort, CIA Ground Branch paramilitaries also started traveling to the front in eastern Ukraine to advise their counterparts there, according to a half-dozen former officials.
The multiweek, U.S.-based CIA program has included training in firearms, camouflage techniques, land navigation, tactics like “cover and move,” intelligence and other areas, according to former officials.
Peace and order appear to be returning to the major cities of Kazakhstan. But the political landscape, both at home and in Kazakhstan’s relations with its neighbors, is vastly changed.
Despite a week of the most violent and destructive disorder in Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago – set off by apparently spontaneous protests over the doubling of gas prices at the start of the new year – the Central Asian republic’s authoritarian regime seems more firmly entrenched than ever. That is due in part to the intervention of Moscow, through its post-Soviet military alliance, the six-member Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
The crisis in Kazakhstan has turned the CSTO from what formerly looked like a paper tiger into a functioning tool of regional elite solidarity. Now, its future goals will likely be to crush attempts at regime change and enforce pro-Moscow geopolitical alignment across a space that contains several emerging states that have yet to solidify strong national identities amid the turbulence and power struggles of the still-collapsing former USSR.
“Moscow was afraid that the state system in Kazakhstan might collapse, and if that happened the consequences for Russia and the region would be huge,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Russian foreign policy analyst. “Turmoil across this region is common, and to be expected, so there are signs that Russia has been developing these tools for some time.
“During the recent unrest in Belarus, it was enough to just signal a readiness to intervene, but in Kazakhstan they found it necessary to go in militarily,” he says. “Russia is reassuring local authorities that they won’t be overthrown. But given the symbolic nature of the deployment, the message is that it’s up to those governments to stabilize their own societies.”
There are still very different theories about the root causes of the unrest.
Last week a wave of peaceful demonstrations broke out in the impoverished west of the country, apparently over rising fuel prices. The government initially tried to assuage the protesters by capping prices, dismissing the Cabinet, and removing the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, from his post as chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan.
But that failed to stop the protests, which quickly spread and became violent riots, which some claim were highly organized. The upheaval left the downtown of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, almost in ruins. Well-armed gangs reportedly fought pitched street battles with police, while mobs ransacked shops and public buildings.
Following a ferocious crackdown by security forces, with at least 164 dead and almost 6,000 arrested, the former Soviet republic is now firmly under control of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the hand-picked successor of longtime leader Mr. Nazarbayev, and the immediate danger has apparently receded.
“Even yesterday there was gunfire in the streets, and it was impossible to go out,” Vyacheslav Abramov, founder of the Vlast online magazine in Almaty, told the Monitor Monday. “Today there are buses running, the streets are being cleaned up, things seem to be returning to normal. … But we have only fragmentary information, and it’s hard to know what’s really happening.”
At an emergency meeting of the CSTO’s Security Council on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the blame squarely on “international terrorism,” claiming that the violence came from “well-organized and well-controlled militant groups … including those who had obviously been trained in terrorist camps abroad.” The Islamist threat to Central Asia has been a deep Russian concern for many years, and has only been magnified since the chaotic U.S. retreat from Afghanistan last year left behind a dangerous vacuum.
But Kazakh leaders have offered a different explanation, pointing to high-ranking internal traitors who utilized the pretext of price increases to trigger protests, then unleashed specially trained armed units in an attempt to stage a coup d’état. At least one top former official, the recently dismissed head of the security services, Karim Masimov, has been arrested and charged with plotting against the state.
Other experts note that no movement has claimed responsibility for the uprising, and no set of unified demands or discernible leaders have emerged from the turmoil. That highly unusual circumstance is hard to square with an organized rebellion, Galym Ageleulov, head of the independent human rights group Liberty, told the Monitor from Almaty on Monday.
“I think what happened was that a peaceful civil meeting of people who are tired of authoritarian government got used by elites in their internal struggles,” he says. “It was a spontaneous upsurge without leaders because there is no permitted legal opposition, and civil activism is not able to grow.
“At some point in the protests, police abandoned their positions and left the streets to bandit formations, and they proceeded to loot the city. Bandits don’t make declarations,” he adds. “What we need here is a new government, one that people can trust. We need reforms and honest elections. Instead, they shuffle a few people at the top, like a deck of cards.”
It seems likely that a combination of factors were in play, says Mr. Lukyanov.
“All the elements are there: socioeconomic tensions, elements of outside interference, and a half-completed transfer of power” from the aging autocrat Mr. Nazarbayev to his chosen successor, Mr. Tokayev, he says. “It is well known that some groups behind Nazarbayev were not happy with his choice. There is a feeling among many observers that it was not a purely spontaneous outburst.”
Russia’s new role
The impact of the intervention by 2,600 troops from CSTO members – mostly Russian paratroopers, but also contingents from Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan – was largely symbolic, confined to securing the Almaty airport and a few other strategic points. But the swift and efficient injection of these forces into the crisis demonstrates an unprecedented level of elite solidarity among emerging post-Soviet states, which are often depicted as allergic to Russian leadership.
“There is a lot of solidarity among ruling elites” in the post-Soviet area, says Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, which is affiliated with the Foreign Ministry. “There are no mature democracies in this region, and none likely to emerge soon. This intervention will set a precedent, boost stability, and create more confidence in Moscow” as it deals with the myriad challenges confronting the post-Soviet region. In the past three years alone, political crises have hit Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and now Kazakhstan.
“Stability is one thing, but it will only work if elites deliver development,” says Mr. Kortunov. “Kazakhstan, with an abundance of natural resources, should be a rich country. But it has a deeply unequal social system and pockets of real poverty. I hope they understand that this needs to be addressed.”
Mr. Lukyanov says that Moscow’s policies are evolving and it is seeking ways to influence the former Soviet states of its neighborhood with a minimum of blunt force. It will be needed, he adds.
“The whole post-Soviet area has entered the period where all states must pass the test of sustainability,” he says. “Russia needs instruments that help maintain political stability, and once that’s accomplished these states will be closer to Moscow. It really doesn’t matter who is in charge there, as long as they understand the objective situation. This limited operation in Kazakhstan may prove an example of how that can work.”
Western media are painting an image of gross failure for Russia at the U.S.-Russia bilateral talks in Geneva, as well as subsequent talks between Russia and NATO in Brussels and the Organization for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.
Adamant! is the impression being fostered by both Russia and the West (largely for domestic consumption): Russia will continue to oppose NATO membership for countries like Ukraine and Georgia; NATO, for its part, will continue to reject Russian opposition as “none of your business”. (Bear in mind that Ukraine and Georgia are each several years away from qualifying for NATO membership in any case.)
The corporate media takeaway is that Russian President Vladimir Putin abjectly failed to get the West to agree formally on no further expansion of NATO and that, in these circumstances, no one can divine how he might lash out (maybe invade Ukraine?). World War III, anyone?
Did Western pundits really believe that Putin expected early acquiescence to that “non-starter” proposal on NATO expansion? Far easier to make believe he did, show how he went down to defeat, and conveniently ignore signs of real progress with respect to what Moscow’s (and President Joe Biden’s) actual priorities are.
Media mention of those priorities has inched forward into subordinate clauses of lead paragraphs – usually after the word “but.” Here’s how NPR played it: “The United States and NATO rejected key Russian security demands for easing tensions over Ukraine but left open Wednesday the possibility of future talks with Moscow on arms control, missile deployments and ways to prevent military incidents between Russia and the West.”
Likewise, the Washington Post: “The United States and Russia remained deadlocked after crisis talks Monday over Moscow’s desire to block any future NATO expansion to the east, but officials agreed to continue discussions on other high-stakes security issues …”
Other High-Stakes Security Issues?
What strategic challenge does President Vladimir Putin consider most threatening? Watching this 12-minute video – especially minutes 4 to 6:30 – in which Putin tries to get through to Western reporters several years ago, will provide a good clue for Western reporters whose dogs ate their homework.
While Putin has been outspoken for 20 years on the precarious strategic situation following the Bush administration’s tearing up the ABM Treaty that had been the cornerstone of strategic balance, this video is unusually effective in showing Putin’s understandable concern and frustration.
Are dogs the standard excuse? Do Western journalists even do homework? Good question. The NY Times’ Bureau Chief in Moscow Anton Troianovsky has confessed that, after an event-packed week, he, Western officials, and Russian experts are “stumped” to explain Russian behavior. Putin, he says, is to blame for keeping people confused and “on edge”, adding that “the mystery surrounding the Russian leader’s intentions was thick as fog again this week….”. (See: Putin’s Next Move on Ukraine Is a Mystery. Just the Way He Likes It.)
It is precisely in this context that watching Putin explain Russia’s post-demise-of-the-ABM-Treaty concerns five years ago might help lazy or simply inexperienced journalists understand the importance of highly significant events over the past couple of weeks: first and foremost, President Joe Biden’s promise to Putin on Dec. 30 not to emplace offensive strike missiles in Ukraine. And, equally instructive: the importance of the U.S. negotiators’ confirming that Washington takes Moscow’s concerns seriously enough to negotiate about them – and other confidence building measures, as well.
“Progress”: The Forbidden Word
Is it unreasonable, then, to look forward to productive bilateral talks in the coming months that address what might be termed “Putin’s Pet Peeve” (although the issue is dead serious, so to speak, far more serious than the commonly understood “pet-peeve” minor annoyance)? A lot of this comes through clearly in the video, which shows Putin losing his cool watching the sleepy nonchalance on the faces of the Western journalists who are his audience: “I don’t know how to get through to you any more.”
What is important is that Putin got through to Biden on that Dec. 30 telephone call which Putin had called for with some urgency (and which was widely neglected in the Establishment media.) Hours later, the official Kremlin readout included: The presidents agreed to personally supervise these negotiating tracks, especially bilateral, with a focus on reaching results quickly. In this context, Joseph Biden emphasised that Russia and the US shared a special responsibility for ensuring stability in Europe and the whole world and that Washington had no intention of deploying offensive strike weapons in Ukraine. [Emphasis added.]
At the same time as the Kremlin readout, Putin’s main adviser on these issues, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters that Moscow was pleased with the Biden-Putin conversation on Dec. 30, adding that Biden’s pledge not to deploy offensive arms in Ukraine amounted to acknowledgment of Russia’s security concerns. Speaking to Russian media, Ushakov pointed out that this was also one of the goals Moscow hopes to achieve with its proposals for security guarantees to the US and NATO.
Ushakov, actually, is understating the case. The US non-deployment-of-offensive-missiles pledge addresses a key issue embedded in no fewer than five of the eight Articles of the Russian draft treaty on security guarantees. In contrast, only Article 4, which includes: “The United States of America shall undertake to prevent further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and deny accession to the Alliance to the States of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”, addresses head-on the NATO expansion issue.
Back to the Putin Video
The 12-minute video includes subtitles in English courtesy of translator “Inessa S.” Putin was speaking to reporters attending the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, 2016. I have taken Inessa’s subtitles and strung them together below into a full text for those who prefer to read rather than watch.
Putin to Western Reporters, June 17, 2016
Your people, in turn, do not feel a sense of the impending danger – this is what worries me.
Now, about the missile defense system, listen to me, we are all adults at this table, and experienced [professionals] at that.
But I am not even going to hope that you are going to relay everything, exactly how I said it, in your publications.
Neither will you attempt to influence your media outlets.
I just want to tell you this, on a personal level
I must remind you, though you already know this, that major global conflicts have been avoided in the past few decades, due to the geostrategic balance of power, which used to exist.
The two super-nuclear powers essentially agreed to stop producing both offensive weaponry, as well as defensive weaponry.
It is simple how it works – where one side becomes dominant in their military potential, they are more likely to want to be the first to be able to use such power.
This is the absolute linchpin to international security. The anti-missile defense system [as previously prohibited in international law], and all of the surrounding agreements that used to exist.
It’s not in my nature to scold someone – but when the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty of 1972 they delivered a colossal blow to the entire system of international security.
That was the first blow, when it comes to assessing the strategic balance of power in the world.
At that time  I said that we will not be developing such systems also, because A) it is very expensive, and B) we aren’t yet sure how they will work [for the Americans].
We’re not going to burn our money.
We’re going to take a different option, and develop offensive weaponry, in order to retain said geo-strategic balance.
That was all.
Not to threaten someone else.
They said – “Fine, our defense system is not against you, and we assume that your weaponry is not against us.”
“Do what you like!”
As I already mentioned, this conversation took place in the early 2000s. Russia was in a very difficult state at that time.
Economic collapse, civil war and the fight against terrorism in our Caucasus region, complete destruction of our military-industrial complex …
They wouldn’t have been able to imagine that Russia could ever again be a military power.
My guess is they assumed that even that which was left over from the Soviet Union would eventually deteriorate.
So they said, “sure, do what you like!”
But we told them about the measures we were going to take in reaction. And that is what we did.
And I assure you – that today, we have had every success in that area.
I’m not going to list everything, all that matters is we have modernized our military-industrial complex.
And we continue to develop new generation warfare. I’m not even going to mention systems against the missile-defense system!
No matter what we said to our American partners [to curb the production of weaponry] they refused to cooperate with us, they rejected our offers, and continue to do their own thing.
Some things I cannot tell you right now publicly, I think that would be rude of me.
And whether or not you believe me, we offered real solutions to stop this [arms race].
They rejected everything we had to offer.
So here we are today – and they’ve placed their missile defense system in Romania.
Always saying “we must protect ourselves from the Iranian nuclear threat!”
Where’s the threat?
There is no Iranian nuclear threat.
You even have an agreement with them – and the US was the instigator of this agreement, where we helped.
We supported it.
But if not for the US then this agreement would not exist – which I consider Obama’s achievement.
I agree with the agreement, because it eased tensions in the area. So President Obama can put this in his list of achievements.
So the Iranian threat does not exist.
But the missile systems are continuing to be positioned …
That means we were right when we said that they are lying to us.
Their reasons were not genuine, in reference to the “Iranian nuclear threat.”
Once again, they lied to us.
So they built this system and now they are being loaded with missiles.
You, as journalists, should know that these missiles are put into capsules
Which are utilized from sea-based, midrange Tomahawk rocket launchers
These are being loaded with “anti-missiles’ that can penetrate distances of up to 500km.
But we know that technologies advance …
We even know in which year the Americans will accomplish a new missile, which will be able to penetrate distances of up to 1000km, and then even further …
And from that moment on they will be able to directly threaten
Russia’s nuclear potential
We know year by year what’s going to happen – and they know that we know!
It’s only that you tell tall-tales to, and you spread it to, the citizens of your countries.
Your people, in turn, do not feel a sense of the impending danger – this is what worries me.
How can you not understand that the world is being pulled in an irreversible direction?
Based on Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s remarks in a press conference on Wednesday that followed the nearly 4-hour meeting of the NATO-Russia Council (link to transcript below), while reiterating its position that it will not countenance limiting any future expansion of the alliance, NATO apparently stated a willingness to work with Russia on “reciprocal actions around risk reduction and transparency, improved communication, and arms control.” Of course, this is better than nothing and may keep the parties talking which could maybe lead ultimately to some meaningful agreement that would satisfy Russia’s security concerns. However, it should be kept in mind that First Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov commented earlier in the week that Russia’s security concerns about NATO and Ukraine are a separate issue, with strategic stability matters of important but secondary concern at the moment.
Another proposal, according to NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg, was that NATO and Russia restore their respective delegations in Brussels and Moscow. Russia has, of this writing, acknowledged the proposal but not responded to it. It’s no surprise that Russia would not be impressed with this idea since it would merely take the two parties back to a status quo that Moscow made clear had not been working for a long time and that it consequently viewed as virtually useless.
Stoltenberg also suggested that Russia expressed a willingness to keep the dialogue going.
Aside from this, Sherman’s comments (and obnoxious State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s comments in his presser later in the day) had the tone that Russia is viewed as a naughty boy who is solely responsible for all the trouble and that the US-led west might humor him with a piece of stale candy if he agrees to stop being naughty – but the adults will only have so much patience with him if he doesn’t stop his shenanigans:
“Russia’s actions have caused this crisis, and it is on Russia to de-escalate tensions and give diplomacy the chance to succeed….It is Russia that has to make a stark choice: de-escalation and diplomacy or confrontation and consequences. We expect and had expected that the Russian delegations at the SSD here at the NATO-Russia Council and tomorrow at the OSCE will have to report back to President Putin, who we all hope will choose peace and security.”
The mindset reflected here reminds me of an important point made in a post by Paul Robinson today called Why Russia Fears NATO. The point he makes is not only legitimate in and of itself, but as I’ve argued in my book and elsewhere, it is a crucial component of competent diplomacy. You have to be able to show cognitive empathy and try to understand your adversary’s perception of the world and perception of its interests – your agreement with it is not necessary and is not the point.
[M]aybe Russia is indeed “wrong” in its assessment of NATO, but that incorrect assessment is driving what it does, with serious consequences. Ignoring it because it’s wrong is simply stupid. Instead, you need to be thinking about why others think the way they do, wondering if it’s perhaps because you’ve done something that’s given them the wrong impression, and then doing something about it. Charging forward all guns blazing simply reinforces the incorrect assessment, causing a reaction that in the end hurts you.
In short, ignoring other people’s alleged wrongness harms one’s own interests as much as theirs.
All this assumes that the others actually are “wrong.” What if they’re not? Or what if, though wrong, there are good reasons for them to believe what they believe given the circumstances in which they find themselves? In short, what if the reason they misperceive you is because you’ve done and said things that lend themselves to misperception? In that case, ignoring the misperception is a huge mistake – instead, you need to address your own behaviour.
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who represented Russia at the talks, asserted that NATO’s insistence that each country freely be allowed to choose which alliances it joins was an extreme position that was not in accordance with long-established principles of international law:
“The freedom of choosing ways to guarantee one’s security must not be exercised in such a way as to infringe on legitimate interests of others, and membership of military alliances should take into account the interests of security of others – these are direct requirements of international obligations that are stipulated by multiple international legal instruments.”
RT reported that Gushko also stated that NATO was in a Cold War mindset, bent on containing Russia:
“The US-led NATO military bloc has reverted to full Cold War strategy of “containment” towards Russia and seeks “full spectrum dominance,” Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told reporters on Wednesday.
The diplomat added that Moscow believes NATO’s behavior is creating a “unacceptable” threat to Russia that it will have to counter.”
Below is the US State Dept. press briefing following the bilateral meeting in Geneva between the US and Russia. The main takeaways are 1) US proposed possibility of agreement regarding limits on placement of missiles in Europe similar to INF Treaty between US and Russia (this would be consistent with Russia’s report of Putin’s phone call with Biden on December 7, 2021 in which it was asserted by Putin’s adviser Yuri Ushakov that “Biden made it clear that the US does not intend to deploy offensive strike weapons in Ukraine.”,** 2) US reiterated its position that agreement to not expand NATO membership further is a “non-starter,” and 3) further discussions are expected later this week between the two countries regarding moving forward with more bilateral diplomacy.
**Shoutout to Ray McGovern for discussing this in a recent interview with Regis Tremblay and an article.
Members of the Defense Department also were present at the talks between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov which lasted for about 8 hours. The Pentagon also held a shorter press briefing that partially addressed the bilateral meeting and related issues.
Below is the press briefing by Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov and Russia’s permanent representative to the UN office Gennady Gatilov. The discussions were described as “difficult” and “detailed.” It was explained that Russia will have a better understanding of progress on their concerns after the NATO-Russia Council meeting to be held in Brussels on January 12th and the meeting between Russia and the OSCE on the 13th. “The key issues are still pending and we do not see that there is understanding from the American side of how imperative these matters need to be resolved in the key that will make us happy.”
With respect to US’s position that agreement to not expand NATO any further is a non-starter: “It goes to show they underestimate the seriousness of the matter and that’s bad.” Ryabkov later made the following comment regarding Ukraine and Georgia in NATO in response to a reporter’s question: “We are fed up with loose talk, half-promises, misinterpretations. We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees – not assurances – guarantees with all the words ‘shall’, ‘must’….It’s a matter of Russia’s national security.”
An American Russia expert recently observed that diplomacy is not a reward for good behavior. Rather diplomacy is a necessary activity required for averting war. Skilled diplomacy requires one to understand the perceived interests of the other side and what shapes those perceptions. This helps both sides to arrive at a mutually agreeable resolution that takes into account the most serious concerns of each. The Biden administration would be wise to give a fair hearing to the security concerns of the world’s other nuclear superpower at the upcoming meeting with Russia on January 10th in order to avert unnecessary escalation in Eastern Europe.
As Putin gets further into what could be his final term as president, he has decided to try to get a meaningful resolution to one of his top priorities: ensuring Russia’s national security. If he can successfully resolve this issue, he may feel freer to open up the purse strings and invest more in his other top priority: raising Russia’s living standards, which have fallen behind as a result of the austerity that has been imposed as the Russian government has focused on macroeconomic stability to make the economy “sanction-proof.”
He has started by offering a proposed draft agreement between Russia and the US and one between Russia and NATO that guarantee no further eastward expansion of NATO and no stationing of US/NATO troops in Ukraine or intermediate- and short-range missiles in Europe.
While it may seem like Russia is making extreme demands and offering no concessions of its own in return, one must keep a few points in mind. First, at the beginning of negotiations, parties will typically start with maximalist positions with the idea that they will be whittled down during talks to something they can live with. Second, Russia has genuine security concerns that many Americans are not aware of because most media has made little attempt to explain Russia’s perspective with regard to its disagreements with the US-led west.
Lacking some of the natural barriers that Americans take for granted, Russia has a history of invasions from the West, including Germany twice in the 20th century – having come through the Polish/Ukrainian corridor. Hitler’s invasion in WWII resulted in around 27 million dead Soviets and destruction of a third of the country. These perceived security interests are driven by historical experience and therefore represent a Russian view, not simply a Putin view.
With this heavy history, Mikhail Gorbachev was hesitant to allow a reunified Germany during 1990 negotiations with western leaders. Declassified government documents reveal that in order to secure Gorbachev’s agreement, he was promised verbally more than once by US Secretary of State James Baker and other western officials that NATO would not move “one inch eastward.”
After the mutually negotiated end of the Cold War and subsequent dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO had lost its reason for existence and had to resort to finding other justifications for remaining in business. This project was assisted by political ideologues , such as Zbig Brzezinski and Neoconservatives, as well as intense defense contractor lobbying which helped spur NATO expansion rather than a re-negotiation of a European security architecture that would ensure the security of all parties. From Russia’s perspective, it made sense to ask: if the Cold War had ended, Russia had voluntarily given up its empire and was no longer an enemy, then why was NATO being expanded with Russia excluded from these new security arrangements?
Not only has the US overseen several rounds of NATO expansion since 1999, it has unilaterally withdrawn from several important treaties governing arms control. The first is the ABM Treaty, the abrogation of which Russia viewed as a threat to its nuclear retaliatory capability. There is also the INF Treaty, the dissolution of which will now allow the US to potentially station intermediate range missiles in Europe, representing another perceived danger to Russia’s security interests.
Then there was the US-supported coup that removed the corrupt but democratically elected leader of Ukraine in 2014, which sparked deeper dissension in a country that has political and cultural divisions that go back centuries. The cold hard reality is that Ukraine has more strategic and historical significance to Russia than it could ever have to the US thousands of miles away. Russia also has the advantage of proximity in the event of a military conflict. The US should seriously reconsider the wisdom of paying lip service to Ukraine’s military defense for any such scenario. Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe and also one of the most corrupt. Ukraine would provide no benefit to NATO as a member and it’s safe to say that neither Americans nor most Europeans would be willing to die for it. Ukraine would be best served if it were militarily neutral and allowed to negotiate economically beneficial relations with both Russia and the West, with the most extreme political elements in the country discouraged from their most reckless inclinations.
It’s time for the US to get beyond its post-Cold War triumphalist mentality and pursue practical diplomacy with Russia. Insisting that all countries have the right to decide what military alliances they join without regard to the larger real world context is a nonstarter. Everyone knows the US would never take this attitude if Russia and China decided to lure Canada or Mexico into joining a military alliance with them.
The Russia of 2022 is not the Russia of the 1990’s. In order to get something, the US-led west will now have to give something. That means a willingness to seriously address Russia’s security concerns. It remains to be seen if the US is capable of the shift in mindset needed to rise to the occasion.
Below are excerpts from two articles about the recent unrest in Kazakhstan. The second is by Pepe Escobar and explains that it is , at least partly, being driven by outsiders as some sort of attempt at a color revolution. The first article, a comprehensive one by Dmitry Plotnikov and published by RT, takes a more nuanced view of the situation. – Natylie
Nationalists are on the rise’: How protests in Kazakhstan turned violent & why Russia feels it can’t stay silent
What’s behind the current violent unrest in Kazakhstan and why is political stability in this huge former Soviet republic of such great importance to Russia?
Events in Kazakhstan are unfolding at breakneck speed, with the situation changing on an hourly basis. Initially, it seemed that protests against soaring energy prices would not turn into anything more serious. Since then, however, the country has asked for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military bloc, and its soldiers have engaged in fierce street battles with armed marauders.
Kazakhstan has always been viewed as one of the most stable post-Soviet countries, with the transition of power from its first president to his successor, managed by the local elites, initially seen as smooth and efficient. However, today the country is perhaps facing its toughest challenge since it became independent 30 years ago. RT has analyzed the reasons behind the unrest in Kazakhstan.
Footage of protests in Kazakhstan has spread all over the world. Demonstrators are forcing their way into public buildings, driving away military vehicles, and disarming soldiers. They have set on fire the mayor’s office in Almaty, the country’s largest city and second capital, which has now turned into the epicenter of the protest movement.
The unrest, however, appears to be mostly spontaneous and uncontrolled. It seems there are no leaders to organize the crowds, nor has any political party spearheaded the protest movement yet. The government simply does not know who to negotiate with, while the demonstrators are gaining control of many of Kazakhstan’s public buildings, as well as storming and destroying the offices of the Nur Otan ruling political party and national television channels.
The protests started on January 2 in western Kazakhstan when the price of fuel went up. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is used by most local citizens as car fuel instead of gasoline. The government refused to continue subsidizing its price and made it clear that, from then on, the cost of LNG will be controlled solely by the market. And it doubled immediately – from 60 to 120 tenge per liter (from $0.14 to $0.28). The government believes that this step will “allow for the obtaining a balanced gas price based on demand and supply” as well as “attracting investment” for new production capacities. The authorities claim that the old model resulted in gas producers being constantly at a loss – the business was unprofitable for them.
Protests flared up in the town of Zhanaozen and quickly spread to the west and north of the country. Demonstrators blocked traffic in the central parts of Kazakhstan and demanded that LNG prices be brought down to previous levels. Many also wanted to face those public officials, residing in Nur-Sultan, who were responsible for the gas price surge. In the beginning, the protests were mostly peaceful, there were no clashes with the police. However, the situation changed and 69 people were detained by law enforcement on January 2 and 3.
The protests went on and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev instructed his government to address the matter of soaring gas prices. Soon the state press service revealed that an investigation had been launched against owners of Kazakhstani gas stations, aimed at identifying price-fixing cartels, and the government promised to “introduce a set of measures in order to regulate the price of gas.” They also said that some of the local owners had decided to reduce the gas price from 120 to 85-90 tenge (about $0.21) per liter, as required by a social responsibility edict for businesses.
But this was not enough to calm the protesting crowds, who resorted to even more radical actions. On the evening of January 4, violent clashes with law enforcement officers started in many Kazakh towns, which lasted throughout the night. Policemen used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters, who responded by setting official cars and specialized vehicles ablaze.
In an attempt to soothe the demonstrators, President Tokayev agreed to comply with one of their demands and dismissed the government. Later, there were rumors that early parliamentary elections would be held. However, this second concession again failed to appease the street movement. This may be explained by the make-up of the new government, which did not significantly differ from the previous one. Alihan Smaiylov was appointed head of the new government. In the previous cabinet, he held the post of first deputy prime minister.
It was as if all the concessions only angered the crowds even more. On January 5, they went on to attack and set fire to administrative buildings. At the same time, the police were often reluctant in trying to disperse the demonstrators. Some of them were even seen changing sides.
These protests are drastically different from any previous demonstrations Kazakhstan has seen. The mass movement of 2019, which marked the power transition from longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev to Tokayev, were dispersed very quickly and in a violent manner – unlike what we see happening in the country today. A casual onlooker can get the impression that the situation in Kazakhstan grew so tense and exploded in a matter of days, and the government is partly paralyzed.
The head of Moscow’s Eurasian Analytical Club, Nikita Mendkovich, believes the reasons behind these mass protests include not only the country’s difficult economic situation, but also the government’s attempts at flirting with nationalists.
“Over the past year or two, we have seen government attempts at flirting with nationalists and pro-Western groups by introducing anti-Russian measures. By this, the ruling elite antagonized Kazakhstan’s Russian-speaking population, which supports Russia and constitutes the majority in Kazakhstan. As a result, the ruling party lost over one million votes at the parliamentary elections in January 2021. But the nationalist opposition interpreted this as a sign of the ruling regime’s weakness and strived to finish it off,” the analyst said.
As he pointed out, at the moment, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) and Oyan, Qazaqstan (OQ), which are pro-Western opposition groups, are actively trying to head the protests and use them to promote their own agenda. According to Mendkovich, this is exactly why the government’s willingness to comply with the protesters’ economic demands failed to put an end to the unrest, but, on the contrary, seems to have further radicalized the demonstrators and motivated them to put forward purely political demands.
Roman Yuneman, a Russian political figure who spent the first 18 years of his life in Kazakhstan, agrees with Mendkovich that local nationalists are the basis of the protest movement. “It’s not the liberals, or hipsters, who are protesting – it’s the nationalists and patriots. That’s why you can see so many of them holding the national flag, and some are even singing Kazakhstan’s anthem,” he said. Yuneman points out that today’s protests have the largest scale in the history of independent Kazakhstan.
So is that much fear and loathing all about gas? Not really.
Kazakhstan was rocked into chaos virtually overnight, in principle, because of the doubling of prices for liquefied gas, which reached the (Russian) equivalent of 20 rubles per liter (compare it to an average of 30 rubles in Russia itself).
That was the spark for nationwide protests spanning every latitude from top business hub Almaty to the Caspian Sea ports of Aktau and Atyrau and even the capital Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana.
The central government was forced to roll back the gas price to the equivalent of 8 rubles a liter. Yet that only prompted the next stage of the protests, demanding lower food prices, an end of the vaccination campaign, a lower retirement age for mothers with many children and – last but not least – regime change, complete with its own slogan: Shal, ket! (“Down with the old man.”)
The “old man” is none other than national leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, who even as he stepped down from the presidency after 29 years in power, in 2019, for all practical purposes remains the Kazakh gray eminence as head of the Security Council and the arbiter of domestic and foreign policy.
The prospect of yet another color revolution inevitably comes to mind: perhaps Turquoise-Yellow – reflecting the colors of the Kazakh national flag. Especially because right on cue, sharp observers found out that the usual suspects – the American embassy – was already “warning” about mass protests as early as in December 16, 2021.
Maidan in Almaty? Oh yeah. But it’s complicated.
Almaty in chaos
For the outside world, it’s hard to understand why a major energy exporting power such as Kazakhstan needs to increase gas prices for its own population.
The reason is – what else – unbridled neoliberalism and the proverbial free market shenanigans. Since 2019 liquefied gas is electronically traded in Kazakhstan. So keeping price caps – a decades-long custom – soon became impossible, as producers were constantly faced with selling their product below cost as consumption skyrocketed.
Everybody in Kazakhstan was expecting a price hike, as much as everybody in Kazakhstan uses liquefied gas, especially in their converted cars. And everybody in Kazakhstan has a car, as I was told, ruefully, during my last visit to Almaty, in late 2019, when I was trying in vain to find a taxi to head downtown.
It’s quite telling that the protests started in the city of Zhanaozen, smack into the oil/gas hub of Mangystau. And it’s also telling that Unrest Central immediately turned to car-addicted Almaty, the nation’s real business hub, and not the isolated, government infrastructure-heavy capital in the middle of the steppes.
At first President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev seemed to have been caught in a deer facing the headlights situation. He promised the return of price caps, installed a state of emergency/curfew both in Almaty and Mangystau (then nationwide) while accepting the current government’s resignation en masse and appointing a faceless Deputy Prime Minister, Alikhan Smailov, as interim PM until the formation of a new cabinet.
Yet that could not possibly contain the unrest. In lightning fast succession, we had the storming of the Almaty Akimat (mayor’s office); protesters shooting at the Army; a Nazarbayev monument demolished in Taldykorgan; his former residence in Almaty taken over; Kazakhtelecom disconnecting the whole country from the internet; several members of the National Guard – armored vehicles included – joining the protesters in Aktau; ATMs gone dead.
And then Almaty, plunged into complete chaos, was virtually seized by the protesters, including its international airport, which on Wednesday morning was under extra security, and in the evening had become occupied territory.
Kazakh airspace, meanwhile, had to contend with an extended traffic jam of private jets leaving to Moscow and Western Europe. Even though the Kremlin noted that Nur-Sultan had not asked for any Russian help, a “special delegation” was soon flying out of Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cautiously stressed, “we are convinced that our Kazakh friends can independently solve their internal problems”, adding, “it is important that no one interferes from the outside.”
How could it all derail so fast?
Up to now, the succession game in Kazakhstan had been seen mostly as a hit across Northern Eurasia. Local honchos, oligarchs and the comprador elites all kept their fiefdoms and sources of income. And yet, off the record, I was told in Nur-Sultan in late 2019 there would be serious problems ahead when some regional clans would come to collect – as in confronting “the old man” Nazarbayev and the system he put in place.
Tokayev did issue the proverbial call “not to succumb to internal and external provocations” – which makes sense – yet also assured that the government “will not fall”. Well, it was already falling, even after an emergency meeting trying to address the tangled web of socioeconomic problems with a promise that all “legitimate demands” by the protesters will be met.
This did not play out as a classic regime change scenario – at least initially. The configuration was of a fluid, amorphous state of chaos, as the – fragile – Kazakh institutions of power were simply incapable of comprehending the wider social malaise. A competent political opposition is non-existent: there’s no political exchange. Civil society has no channels to express itself.
So yes: there’s a riot goin’ on – to quote American rhythm’n blues. And everyone is a loser. What is still not exactly clear is which conflicting clans are flaming the protests – and what is their agenda in case they’d have a shot at power. After all, no “spontaneous” protests can pop up simultaneously all over this vast nation virtually overnight.
Kazakhstan was the last republic to leave the collapsing USSR over three decades ago, in December 1991. Under Nazarbayev, it immediately engaged in a self-described “multi-vector” foreign policy. Up to now, Nur-Sultan was skillfully positioning itself as a prime diplomatic mediator – from discussions on the Iranian nuclear program as early as 2013 to the war in/on Syria from 2016. The target: to solidify itself as the quintessential bridge between Europe and Asia.
The Chinese-driven New Silk Roads, or BRI, were officially launched by Xi Jinping at Nazarbayev University in September 2013. That happened to swiftly dovetail with the Kazakh concept of Eurasian economic integration, crafted after Nazarbayev’s own government spending project, Nurly Zhol (“Bright Path”), designed to turbo-charge the economy after the 2008-9 financial crisis.
In September 2015, in Beijing, Nazarbayev aligned Nurly Zhol with BRI, de facto propelling Kazakhstan to the heart of the new Eurasian integration order. Geostrategically, the largest landlocked nation on the planet became the prime interplay territory of the Chinese and Russian visions, BRI and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU).
A diversionary tactic
For Russia, Kazakhstan is even more strategic than for China. Nur-Sultan signed the CSTO treaty in 2003. It’s a key member of the EAEU. Both nations have massive military-technical ties and conduct strategic space cooperation in Baikonur. Russian has the status of an official language, spoken by 51% of the republic’s citizens.
At least 3.5 million Russians live in Kazakhstan. It’s still early to speculate about a possible “revolution” tinged with national liberation colors were the old system to eventually collapse. And even if that happened, Moscow will never lose all of its considerable political influence.
So the immediate problem is to assure Kazakhstan’s stability. The protests must be dispersed. There will be plenty of economic concessions. Permanent destabilizing chaos simply cannot be tolerated – and Moscow knows it by heart. Another – rolling – Maidan is out of the question.
The Belarus equation has shown how a strong hand can operate miracles. Still, the CSTO agreements do not cover assistance in case of internal political crises – and Tokayev did not seem to be inclined to make such a request.
Until he did. He called for the CSTO to intervene to restore order. There will be a military enforced curfew. And Nur-Sultan may even confiscate the assets of US and UK companies which are allegedly sponsoring the protests.
This is how Nikol Pashinyan, chairman of the CSTO Collective Security Council and Prime Minister of Armenia, framed it: Tokayev invoked a “threat to national security” and the “sovereignty” of Kazakhstan, “caused, inter alia, by outside interference.” So the CSTO “decided to send peacekeeping forces” to normalize the situation, “for a limited period of time”.
The usual destabilizing suspects are well known. They may not have the reach, the political influence, and the necessary amount of Trojan horses to keep Kazakhstan on fire indefinitely.
At least the Trojan horses themselves are being very explicit. They want an immediate release of all political prisoners; regime change; a provisional government of “reputable” citizens; and – what else – “withdrawal of all alliances with Russia.”
And then it all gets down to the level of ridiculous farce, as the EU starts calling on Kazakh authorities to “respect the right to peaceful protests.” As in allowing total anarchy, robbery, looting, hundreds of vehicles destroyed, attacks with assault rifles, ATMs and even the Duty Free at Almaty airport completely plundered.
This analysis (in Russian) covers some key points, mentioning, “the internet is full of pre-arranged propaganda posters and memos to the rebels” and the fact that “the authorities are not cleaning up the mess, as Lukashenko did in Belarus.”
Slogans so far seem to originate from plenty of sources – extolling everything from a “western path” to Kazakhstan to polygamy and Sharia law: “There is no single goal yet, it has not been identified. The result will come later. It is usually the same. The elimination of sovereignty, external management and, finally, as a rule, the formation of an anti-Russian political party.”
Putin, Lukashenko and Tokayev spent a long time over the phone, at the initiative of Lukashenko. The leaders of all CSTO members are in close contact. A master game plan – as in a massive “anti-terrorist operation” – has already been hatched. Gen. Gerasimov will personally supervise it.
Now compare it to what I learned from two different, high-ranking intel sources.
The first source was explicit: the whole Kazakh adventure is being sponsored by MI6 to create a new Maidan right before the Russia/US-NATO talks in Geneva and Brussels next week, to prevent any kind of agreement. Significantly, the “rebels” maintained their national coordination even after the internet was disconnected.
The second source is more nuanced: the usual suspects are trying to force Russia to back down against the collective West by creating a major distraction in their Eastern front, as part of a rolling strategy of chaos all along Russia’s borders. That may be a clever diversionary tactic, but Russian military intel is watching. Closely. And for the sake of the usual suspects, this better may not be interpreted – ominously – was a war provocation.
Note: I don’t agree with Macgregor that Russia will invade Ukraine. If the US/NATO do not provide Russia with security agreements it can live with, there are other ways Russia can militarily pressure the US, NATO and Ukraine as has been discussed by Gilbert Doctorow and Patrick Armstrong. Only if Kiev attacks Donbas will Russia engage its military there. But I think the rest of what Macgregor has to say is well worth listening to. – Natylie
Douglas Macgregor, a retired US Army Colonel and former Pentagon senior advisor, analyzes the US-Russia standoff in Ukraine; the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan; Trump’s failure to act on 2016 campaign anti-interventionist rhetoric, only to surround himself with neocons; and the ongoing, overlooked US military occupation of Syria after the decade-long CIA dirty war.
“The Military Industrial Congressional Complex,” Macgregor says, “seems to be more powerful than anyone who occupies the office of the presidency.”