Russia – US: dialogue will be hard

Monday January 10 2022
PutinBiden pic

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will talk by telephone, with the US leader expected to offer Putin a 'diplomatic path' out of tensions around Ukraine. FILE PHOTO | AFP

By Sergey Sayenko

On December 30, Presidents of Russia and the United States Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden held 50-minute telephone talks. The conversation was initiated by the Russian leader and became second over the last month.

Despite taking place on New Year's eve, the negotiations were serious and businesslike, at least as assessed by the Kremlin.

Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said the conversation was constructive and frank.

According to him, Vladimir Putin warned his American counterpart that the introduction of new "unprecedented" anti-Russian sanctions might entail a complete rupture of the two countries' relations.

The Russian leader elaborated on the basic principles of Moscow's proposals as regards Russian strategic security guarantees.


Putin's aide stressed Russia needed progress, so the authorities would work on it.

 "The US President actually agreed with this viewpoint and provided a predictable and serious reaction... Biden also stressed that Russia and the United States could and should play a key role in efforts to ensure peace and security both in Europe and elsewhere in the world," Ushakov said.

Joe Biden, as the official message released by the White House reads, promised not to deploy offensive strike weapons in Ukraine, and pointed to the inadmissibility of a nuclear war. "President Biden urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine. He also made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine," it said.

As we assume from the American media, it took Biden several days to prepare for the conversation with Putin.

But he seems to haven't correctly assessed the situation at the Russian-Ukrainian border, otherwise he would not have stated that ‘Russia further invades Ukraine’.

After all, Moscow repeatedly said at various levels, including President Putin, that Russia was not going to invade Ukraine and was only moving its troops across its own territory. All the more so as the recent days saw the Russian side withdraw 10,000 troops from the border area.

However, despite this step, according to a senior Biden administration representative cited by Reuters, US concern has not abated in recent weeks, and many in Washington still believe Russia may initiate an invasion. And still, there are some American analysts who doubt this but fear that the combat-ready forces concentrated in the region may provoke war, accidentally or intentionally. At the same time, an alarming thing is that there are still many people in the American capital who do not believe in dialogue success between Moscow and Washington and do not want normal relations.

It should be noted that the current telephone conversation between the leaders of the two countries took place ahead of the US-Russia January 10 meeting on security issues to be followed by a session of the NATO-Russia Council on January 12 and a broader conference in the OSCE format scheduled for January 13.

Earlier, on December 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry released draft agreements with the United States on security guarantees and ways of ensuring safety of the Russian Federation and NATO member states, that were handed over to Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried on December 15.

Washington considers some of Moscow's security guarantees demands, including restrictions on NATO expansion, unreal.

"Both presidents are virtually cornered," said analyst with the American Enterprise Institute Leon Aron. "Putin's ultimatum implies NATO expansion refusal, withdrawal of NATO troops from the Baltic States and, most importantly, a promise to never accept Ukraine into NATO. On all the three points, Biden said 'no.'

So the question is whether they will come to some kind of compromise." Like many other American analysts, he believes Putin is only projecting power on the eve of key elections in 2024. And there are a lot of similar opinions in the USA now.

For this reason, there is some anxiety that negotiations scheduled for early January will be hard and maybe even open-ended. Which, as the Russian leader said earlier, is extremely undesirable and unacceptable. As Putin put it, the West can simply "drown our proposals in words," which is unacceptable for the Russian side.

It should be noted that after following Russia's security guarantees proposals to the United States and NATO, branded as Moscow's ultimatum by some experts, Western officials express readiness to consider those. And still, the situation is not developing as simply as many of those interested in stability and peace on the planet would like it to. In particular, the information background accompanying the Russian-American dialogue can hardly be called conciliatory.

And without preparing the Western public for compromises with Russia, it will be hard for the United States to promote and legitimize any possible agreements.

Amidst  the continuous flow of reproaches from the Republican Party about US weakness in the international arena after the failed withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

 Thus, the appearance of articles in the central Western media with at least a neutral assessment of Russia on its proposals on security issues in Europe could be a signal of the West's willingness to compromise. But it's not the situation yet.

The only thing that inspires optimism is that Presidents Putin and Biden will personally monitor the progress of negotiations between the two countries on security guarantees for Russia and have agreed to continue communication. According to Yuri Ushakov, the leaders will monitor the progress of the Geneva talks and negotiations on other tracks and give their valuable instructions to the negotiating teams, if necessary.

Hopefully, these "valuable instructions" will yield positive results at all the upcoming Russian-American talks, as well as negotiations between representatives of Russia and Nato.