Russia takes initiative to break security deadlock

China Military Online
Li Jiayao
2021-12-21 16:59:03

By Zhang Hong

Russia recently outlined two comprehensive draft agreements on security guarantees to the US and NATO respectively, demanding NATO to “prevent from the further eastward expansion”, “deny NATO membership to Ukraine”, and “roll back the alliance’s military deployments in in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Eastern Asia”. Moscow hoped to solve all disputes with NATO once and for all through the package solution.

The US and the Soviet Union signed a series of arms control treaties in the later stage of the Cold War to control their behaviors legally, but US’ pullback from one arms control treaty after another has escalated the arms race in Europe. In the 21st century, NATO continuously accepting new members against its post-Cold War commitment to Russia has also aggravated Moscow’s dissatisfaction and doubts, eventually leading to the serious tension on their ties.

Since both Russia and the US claimed to be ready for dialogue on the increasingly severe Ukraine issue, what are the chances for them to reach a new arms control treaty?

Even though both parties expressed willingness to ease the tension, the contents in the Moscow-proposed draft decide that they will go through a long and hard process of bargaining and are unlikely to reach a compromise any time soon.

First, it’s hard to have NATO flatly refuse Ukraine. Although NATO is a US-led bloc, the stances of European members cannot be ignored, and Biden wouldn’t dare make concessions on the Ukraine issue as he is trying to mend the US-EU cross-Atlantic alliance. Eastern European countries represented by Poland and Lithuania take “support for Ukraine” as US’ commitment of confidence to Europe. Therefore, if Biden agreed to Moscow’s demand for denying Ukraine the NATO membership, the influence of the US and NATO would be seriously undermined.

Second, it’s possible to make some arms control arrangements between Russia and NATO. The EU has the motive to reach an arms control treaty for the sake of Europe’s security. Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) was not only slammed by Russia, but also by EU members. In 2021, Putin has elaborated on Russia’s “strategic red line” and strategic resolve to safeguard core interests to the West on many public occasions, and the country has twice assembled masses of armed forces on the Ukraine border this year, indicating how determined it is to launch strategic counterattacks. It would be much better to replace such sporadic breakout with a legal arrangement on guaranteed security.

Despite the vastly different positions of the various parties, Moscow still took the initiative to break the security deadlock with NATO. Once they sit down at the negotiating table, there is still a chance of reaching a compromise, and the security guarantee agreement, if agreed on, will exert great impacts on the European and global situation.

On the one hand, Russia specifically mentioned the “Cuba Missile Crisis” during the Cold War in the security agreement, hoping to force NATO to back up by hinting at a possible “hot war” if the negotiations go south. Given Russia’s powerful nuclear deterrence, the US-led NATO will not meddle in the Ukraine situation through military means, and the situation in the country will chill if the security guarantee agreement can be concluded.

On the other hand, we must be alert to America further shifting its strategic focus to the Asia Pacific. Since Biden took office, Washington has moved more quickly to retract from non-key areas, not only pulling troops out of Syria and Iraq, but also completely abandoning Afghanistan. It has also deployed most of its aircraft carriers to the Asia Pacific and teamed up with NATO’s European members to carry out joint military exercises in the region. Considering the shift of its strategic focus, the US may make some concessions to Moscow.

Proposing the security guarantee agreement is a diplomatic initiative made by Russia, but how it will play out depends partly on the wisdom of the concerned parties and partly on the joint efforts of the international community.

(The author is a research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European & Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

Editor's note: This article is originally published on, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

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