Aleksander Mimier, Niezalezna.pl: We are after the first US-Russia talks. What can be inferred from the statements of both sides today, even before the meetings at NATO and OSCE forums?
Anna Maria Dyner, Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM): Today, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted that there was no sign of optimism after the talks in Geneva. On the Russian side, it was evident that the talks they were holding with the United States and those that would be conducted in multilateral formats – within NATO and the OSCE – were considered a success. Russia is well aware that the demands it made last December are not entirely acceptable for Western countries, for NATO. Their adoption would mean going back 25 years in the history of European security, which is impossible. In fact, this would mean NATO’s political and military capitulation. The United States and the rest of the Alliance cannot afford it.
The postulates presented in the Russian draft treaties are unacceptable to the West, which the Kremlin is fully aware of. What, then, is the purpose of today’s confusion and the Russian military at the borders of Ukraine?
There are two options. The first – less likely after these talks – that the Russians, by making demands that could not be met, hoped that the negotiations would be broken. Then they could pass the responsibility on to the Western countries. However, I would like to point out that at yesterday’s press conference, Sergei Ryabkov (Russia’s deputy foreign minister – editor) announced that the next round of negotiations with American partners was being arranged. If we have a situation in which the United States has firmly rejected Russian demands, for example not to enlarge NATO, it can be assumed that if the Russians were determined to break the negotiations, it would have happened.
I think the Russians may want to win something else. They are primarily concerned with the question of Ukraine. Perhaps they are counting on the North Atlantic Alliance to reject its demands for itself and its policy, and as part of a compromise it will agree to concessions related to Ukraine. There are also things in all of this that the Russians would very much like to negotiate: for example, that the US should join the Russian moratorium on not deploying medium and intermediate-range missiles in Europe. The trouble is that even if the Russians do comply, they still have these weapons beyond the Urals. Transferring it to the western border is a matter of a few days. On the other hand, if no similar weapons are available in Europe, it will take much longer to transfer them from the United States. You can see that Russia wants to protect itself, especially in the European part of the country; where Moscow and St. Petersburg are located – the two most important cities for the functioning of the state.
The position of the West on Russia seems to be uniform for the time being. If it were otherwise, it would be much easier for the Kremlin to play a divergent rival. Is he still trying to do this?
The situation in which Russia is counting on division among its allies is nothing new. The Russians have been trying this for years. They take advantage of the fact that both NATO and the European Union are made up of dozens of member states with their own particular interests. They use different visions of the Member States, for example in the field of dialogue with the Russian Federation. This is part of the Russia game. Russia realizes that when NATO or the European Union speak with one voice, they will always be organisms – militarily and economically – much stronger than Russia itself. However, if more bricks from the allies’ side are being pulled out, the picture starts to look a bit different.
Maintaining unity among the allies is not a good signal for the Russian Federation, and for countries such as Poland – it is very important and optimistic information.
Can we expect Vladimir Putin to strive for an agreement over the heads of others, only with the United States? This is in line with the Kremlin’s vision that “decision-makers should only be powers.”
The concert of powers includes not only Russia, China and the United States, but – when talking about Europe – we think about large countries such as Germany or France. When it comes to talks at the US-Russian level, the so-called strategic dialogue has always taken place at this diplomatic level, always the heads of the delegations were the deputy secretary of state and the deputy minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation.
Of course, in Russian optics, the world is to be divided into zones of influence. The fate of the world is to be decided by the greatest who have a lot to say, especially from the military point of view. The announcement – brazen from our point of view – that NATO should regress to its pre-1997 state, fully reflects this approach. This is Russia’s style of thinking showing that the states which are to be a zone of influence or a buffer zone for the Kremlin are also to be limited in their ability to conduct their foreign policy. Especially in a situation where it would pose a threat to the security of the Russian Federation. I believe that Russia will continue its foreign policy according to this paradigm. This explains why thinking in terms of geopolitical terms is close to Russia, but at the same time shows how terribly dangerous it is for countries such as Poland.
De-escalation of tensions at the borders of Ukraine for consent to gas transmission via Nord Stream 2. Is such a scenario possible?
These things are of course connected. It is not, however, that there would be no concentration of troops on the border with Ukraine without Nord Stream 2, and there would be no issue of the gas pipeline itself without a concentration of troops. In other words – in both cases it is an element of exerting very strong pressure – on the one hand military, and on the other – energy and economic, on European countries. It is worth noting that the current situation in Ukraine has, de facto, been going on since last April. It was then that the Russians gathered significant forces and resources for the first time both on the border with Ukraine and in the occupied Crimea. A few months later this situation repeated itself, with the issue of Nord Stream 2 certification being raised in the late autumn. Even if the gas pipeline is launched, I do not believe that it will mean de-escalation around Ukraine. The Russians – apart from launching Nord Stream 2 – have other goals to achieve when it comes to the Ukrainian state.
Connecting the situation in Ukraine and Nord Stream 2 as negotiating elements does not have to be favorable to Russia either. In this way, they would show that the gas pipeline is an element of pressure and not a tool for economic cooperation, as they always wanted to see. Therefore, I believe that the issues related to gas prices are, above all, an action aimed at ensuring that the countries of Western Europe sign long-term contracts.
To what extent does the current dispute with Russia affect Poland?
It touches Poland in many ways. Any problems with military operations conducted, for example, in Ukraine will require further involvement of the OSCE, which Poland chairs this year. Next – the matter of strengthening your security. It is worth noting that NATO has raised the combat readiness of its spearhead * in recent days, precisely in response to the situation in Ukraine. Taking into account that Poland is a flanking state, we cannot ignore it from the military point of view. Another element is bilateral support for Ukraine, should there be another aggravation, further fights and resettlement. I do not even think about the extremely pessimistic and still unreal scenario that Russia will decide to invade a full-scale invasion. This will mean very serious challenges, not only for Poland, but for the whole of Europe and the transatlantic world.
Russia’s power projection in its western strategic direction means the need to adapt both NATO and Poland. An analysis is needed as to what capabilities NATO should further develop, although this has been going on consistently since the 2004 Newport Summit. It is also a matter of developing Polish capabilities, both individual and in line with allied obligations. All of this is a communicating vessel system that creates safety challenges.
* Spitz – The Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), known as the NATO Spike, was created in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. It consists of soldiers on the highest alert readiness, delegated on a rotating basis by the member states of the North Atlantic Alliance. Spearhead soldiers remain in their home units, but must be capable of operating within 48-72 hours.