Russia says Europe must think about the real prospect of turning their continent into a field of military confrontation like that which existed at the height of the Cold War, writes Scott Ritter.
By Scott Ritter
Special to Consortium News
The United States, wrapped in its self-made cloak of so-called “American exceptionalism”, is loath to undertake any action that can be construed as weakening its geopolitical posture or strengthening that of an adversary, actual or potential.
Under normal circumstances, such a foundational approach toward negotiations would be seen as logical and necessary. Of course, defining “normal conditions” is very much a subjective exercise in Washington, DC. What American diplomats embrace as the status quo ante is seen in many corners of the world as the United States taking what it wants, when it wants, how it wants, regardless of the cost such actions impose on the rest of the world.
How else can one explain the actions of the world’s sole remaining superpower in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union thirty years ago, and the subsequent end of the Cold War?
The bombing of Belgrade, Serbia in 1999 (the only time a European capital has been so attacked since the end of the Second World War) void of any legal authority recognized under international law?
The invasion of Iraq, using a manufactured pretext, in open violation of international law? Two decades of illegitimate occupation of Afghanistan under the false premise of nation building?
The destruction of Libya in the name of illegal regime change?
The eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), despite verbal assurances from various senior NATO diplomats and leaders that this would not happen?
The dissolution of foundational arms control agreements, such as the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) and Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaties, in a manner which failed to conceal America’s desire to deploy missile defense systems and offensive intermediate-range missiles on the European continent that directly threaten Russian national security?
The Last Chance for Peace?
This list of complaints does not reflect exaggeration or fabrication. The points raised are reality-based, founded in fact, and incontrovertibly true. Moreover, they serve as the foundation for a pair of draft treaties submitted by Russia to the United States and NATO last week which the Russians claim represent the last chance for peace in Europe.
Students of diplomatic history will note, accurately, that rarely do parties engaged in serious negotiations open with a gambit that includes complete, ready-for-signature draft treaties. Serious negotiations are defined by the principles of cooperation and compromise between equal partners to the treaty under discussion.
Usually take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums appear only after armed conflict between nations where one party has emerged decisively victorious over the other. Any diplomat from either the United States or one of its NATO partners would be right to note that neither the U.S. nor NATO have been defeated by Russia.
Moreover, by placing all its demands up front, Russia has weakened its hand by allowing NATO to pick and chose what, if any, of these demands might be open to potential compromise, where NATO will refuse to yield, and where NATO will push back with demands of its own. Simply put, by publishing its demands in draft treaty form, these experts contend, Russia has seriously weakened its hand.
The problem with this point of view, however, is that it is founded on the belief that what Russia is proposing is an old school diplomatic negotiation. It is not. One need only refer to the list of perceived sins, outlined above, to understand that Russia believes it has already yielded as much as it possibly can to what it believes is an overly aggressive, anti-Russian agenda being actively implemented by the U.S. and NATO.
These grievances are not assembled by reviewing decades of Russian diplomatic commentary, but rather by viewing one speech, given by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Russian Defense Ministry, earlier this week. The status quo ante, Putin has declared, is no longer acceptable. The U.S. and NATO must be open for the need to change, or else Russia will be compelled to change them on its own.
As Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko recently stated, “We [Russia] are making clear that we are ready to talk about switching over from a military or a military-technical scenario to a political process” that will strengthen the security of all parties involved. “If that doesn’t work out,” Grushko added, “we signaled to them [the U.S. and NATO] that will also move over to creating counter threats, but it will then be too late to ask us why we made these decisions and why we deployed these systems.”
Grushko appeared to be referencing the U.S. decision to deploy a new generation of hypersonic intermediate-range missiles known as “Dark Eagle” onto German soil sometime next year. Implicit in Grushko’s comments are the notion that a) Russia has a military response, most probably hypersonic intermediate-range missiles of its own, in mind, and these systems are ready for immediate deployment.
In other words, there will be no period of gradual transition, only instant cause-and-effect consequence. Europe, Grushko said, must think about the real prospect of turning their continent into a field of military confrontation like that which existed at the height of the Cold War.
‘A Serious Threat’
Drawn out negotiations are not in Russia’s interests, only short-term outcomes, either produced through what would amount to the unlikely diplomatic capitulation on the part of the U.S. and NATO or compelled by Russia through force of arms. A lengthy period of negotiations would allow, for example, NATO and Ukraine to implement the ten major military exercises that are currently planned for 2022, exercises which Russia believes only encourage Ukrainian anti-Russian belligerency.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov opined that the planned drills are little more than a cover for Ukraine to attempt to resolve its internal problem by using force. Russian military experts, like Konstantin Sivkov, agree. “The drills that Ukraine is conducting with NATO are a serious threat,” Sivkov told the Russian newspaper Izvestia, “since they are directed at working on conducting a war against Russia. Additionally, they may serve as a cover for the deployment of a force grouping. Their arrival may end up with them not leaving.”
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov likewise has made it clear that any effort by NATO to legitimize its interest in Ukraine, or further Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO, was a non-starter for Russia. “When Mr. [NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg says loudly and rather arrogantly that nobody is in the position to violate the principle of the Washington treaty [NATO treaty],” Lavrov told the press recently, “which keeps the door open to any potential aspirant eager to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he should remember that we are not a participant in that organization, that we are not signatory to that treaty, but that we are signatories to a broader regional Euro-Atlantic document, which contains the principle of the indivisibility of security.”
Russian Red Lines
Russia will not yield on the issue of INF systems being deployed to Europe, NATO force deployments near the Russian border, or Ukrainian membership in NATO. So why present the draft treaties in the first place? Because Russia is positioning itself for a post-war reality where it will need to demonstrate to the rest of the world why it had no options other that direct military intervention in Ukraine. There should be no doubt that if and when Russia decides to move militarily on Ukraine, it will be a one-sided fight the likes of which have not been seen since Desert Storm in 1991, when a U.S.-led coalition rolled over Iraq. Ukraine will be destroyed as a modern nation state. This is a statement of fact.
The dire consequences that President Joe Biden, NATO, the EU, and the G-7 have promised in retaliation for any Russian military action against Ukraine are illusory—no nation can survive the inevitable blow-back that will accrue if such measures are enacted, especially against Russian energy. Russia, simply put, can survive being disconnected from SWIFT (the international system of communication protocols that link banks) that either – but neither Europe nor the United States can survive without Russian energy.
Therefore, Russia has presented NATO and the U.S. with draft treaties, ready for signature. The outcome, from the Russian perspective, is a fait accompli; it is up to the U.S. and NATO to determine the mechanism of their defeat, either diplomatic or, in the language of the Russians, “military-technical.”
Russia is operating on its own timeline, one that seeks a rapid resolution to these issues. While Russia has agreed to direct talks with the U.S., and multilateral talks with NATO and the OSCE, these talks will not be allowed to drag on.
Should the U.S. not agree to the Russian demands outright (never going to happen) or a reasonable counterproposal (highly unlikely), and should the U.S. go forward with its plans to deploy the Dark Eagle hypersonic missile system to Europe (prompting a Russian response to deploy weapons systems of its own that place the totality of Europe under the immediate threat of annihilation), then the outcome is a foregone conclusion—Russia will destroy Ukraine militarily.
Welcome to 1983, the year of the Able Archer NATO exercises that nearly prompted a Russian nuclear response.
Moreover, Russia may very well deploy hypersonic weapons into the Caribbean, either in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, or a combination thereof, to counter the threat to Moscow posed by U.S. systems in Europe.
Welcome to 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile crisis, when the Soviet Union responded to U.S. nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey.
Russia is engaging in such precipitous behavior because it legitimately believes it has no other option. “We have nowhere left to retreat,” Putin lamented to his generals, when speaking of NATO expansion in Europe.
There will be many in the U.S., scared and confused by the Russian actions, who will seek to cast the blame for war and the rumor of war on Russia and Russia alone. But the reality is, this crisis has been a long time in the making, and the nation which is most responsible for building a history of minor conflicts which, in their aggregate approach critical mass, is the United States.
2022, it seems, will be a year of major power crisis and conflict.
Happy New Year.
Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.