Russia sets out tough demands for security pact with NATO

Vladimir Isachenkov and Lorne Cook
Associated Press

Moscow – Russia on Friday published draft security demands that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe – bold ultimatums that are almost certain to be rejected by the U.S. and its allies.

The proposals, which were submitted to the U.S. and its allies earlier this week, also call for a ban on sending U.S. and Russian warships and aircraft to areas from where they can strike each other’s territory, along with a halt to NATO military drills near Russia.

The demand for a written guarantee that Ukraine won’t be offered membership already has been rejected by the West, which said Moscow doesn’t have a say in NATO’s enlargement.

Military vehicles and tanks of Poland, Italy, Canada and United States roll during the NATO military exercises ''Namejs 2021'' at a training ground in Kadaga, Latvia, on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

NATO’s secretary-general responded Friday by emphasizing that any security talks with Moscow would need to take into account NATO concerns and involve Ukraine and other partners. The White House similarly said it’s discussing the proposals with U.S. allies and partners, but notes that all countries have the right to determine their future without outside interference.

The publication of the demands – contained in a proposed Russia-U.S. security treaty and a security agreement between Moscow and NATO – comes amid soaring tensions over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that has raised fears of an invasion. Moscow has denied it has plans to attack its neighbor, but is seeking legal guarantees precluding NATO expansion and deploying weapons there.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia’s relations with the U.S. and NATO have approached a “dangerous point,” noting that alliance deployments and drills near Russia have raised “unacceptable” threats to its security.

Moscow wants the U.S. to start talks immediately on the proposals in Geneva, he told reporters.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had received the Russian documents, and noted that any dialogue with Moscow “would also need to address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions, be based on core principles and documents of European security, and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners, such as Ukraine.”

He added that the 30 NATO countries “have made clear that should Russia take concrete steps to reduce tensions, we are prepared to work on strengthening confidence building measures.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that strategic security talks with Moscow go back decades, adding that “there’s no reason we can’t do that moving forward to reduce instability, but we’re going to do that in partnership and coordination with our European allies and partners.”

“There will be no talks on European security without our European allies and partners,” Psaki said. ”We will not compromise the key principles on which European security is built, including that all countries have the right to decide their own future and foreign policy free from the outside interference.”

President Vladimir Putin raised the demand for security guarantees in last week’s video call with U.S. President Joe Biden. During the conversation, Biden voiced concern about a buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine and warned him that Russia would face “severe consequences” if Moscow attacked its neighbor.

U.S. intelligence officials say Russia has moved 70,000 troops to its border with Ukraine and is preparing for a possible invasion early next year. Moscow denies any intention to attack and accused Ukraine of planning an offensive to reclaim control of rebel-held eastern Ukraine – an allegation Kyiv has rejected.

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine began after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. It has killed over 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.

The Russian demands would oblige Washington and its allies to pledge to halt NATO’s eastward expansion to include other ex-Soviet republics and rescind a 2008 promise of membership to Ukraine and Georgia. The alliance already has firmly rejected that demand from Moscow.

The demands also would preclude the U.S. and its allies from setting up military bases in Ukraine, Georgia and other ex-Soviet nations that aren’t members of NATO.

The proposal also contains a new demand to roll back NATO troops deployments in Central and Eastern Europe, stating that the parties agree not to send any troops to areas where they hadn’t been present in 1997 – before NATO’s eastward expansion started – except for exclusive situations of mutual consent.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In the following years, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia also became members, bringing NATO membership to 30 nations.

The draft proposals contain a ban on the deployment of U.S. and Russian warships and aircraft to “areas where they can strike targets on the territory of the other party.”

Moscow has long complained about patrol flights by U.S. strategic bombers near Russia’s borders and the deployment of U.S. and NATO warships to the Black Sea, describing them as destabilizing and provocative.

Russia’s draft also envisages a pledge not to station intermediate-range missiles in areas where they can strike the other party’s territory, a clause that follows the U.S. and Russian withdrawal from a Cold War-era pact banning such weapons.

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Cook reported from Brussels. Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.