Russia sets out tough demands for security pact with NATO

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, gestures toward Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

MOSCOW (AP) — 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.

NATO’s secretary-general emphasized Friday 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 noted 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 wants 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 national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration is ready to discuss Moscow’s concerns about NATO in talks with Russian officials, but emphasized that Washington is committed to the “principle of nothing about you without you” in shaping policy that impacts European allies.

“We’re approaching the broader question of diplomacy with Russia from the point of view that … meaningful progress at the negotiating table, of course, will have to take place in a context of de-escalation rather than escalation,” Sullivan said at the event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. He added “that it’s very difficult to see agreements getting consummated if we’re continuing to see an escalatory cycle.”

While U.S. intelligence has determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made plans for a potential further invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, Sullivan said the U.S. still does not know whether he has decided to move forward.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that strategic security talks with Moscow go back decades, saying 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.”

”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,” Psaki said.

Moscow’s draft also calls for efforts to reduce the risk of incidents involving Russia and NATO warships and aircraft, primarily in the Baltic and the Black seas, increase the transparency of military drills and other confidence-building measures.

A senior U.S. official said some of the Russian proposals are part of an arms control agenda between Moscow and Washington, while some other issues, such as transparency and deconfliction, concern all 57 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including Ukraine and Georgia.

The official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to talk about the proposals, said the U.S. is looking at how to engage every country whose interests are affected in prospective talks on European security issues and will respond to Moscow sometime next week with concrete proposals after consulting with the allies.

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.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and shortly after cast its support behind a separatist rebellion in the country’s east. More than seven years of fighting 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.

Moscow’s documents also would preclude the U.S. and other NATO allies from conducting any military activities in Ukraine, other countries of Eastern Europe and ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus and in Central Asia.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry commented on Moscow’s proposals by emphasizing that it’s up to the alliance and Ukraine to discuss NATO membership prospects and its military cooperation with other countries.

“The Russian aggression and the current Russian escalation along the Ukrainian border and on the occupied territories is now the main problem for the Euro-Atlantic security,” said its spokesman Oleg Nikolenko.

The Russian proposal also ups the ante by putting a new demand to roll back NATO military 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 exceptional 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 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.

The Russian draft also calls for a ban on the deployment of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons on the territory of other countries — a repeat of Moscow’s longtime push for the U.S. to withdraw its nuclear weapons from Europe.

Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, noted that the publication of the Russian demands signals that the Kremlin considers their acceptance by the West unlikely.

“This logically means that Russia will have to assure its security single-handedly” using military-technical means, he said on Twitter.

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Cook reported from Brussels. Darlene Superville, Ellen Knickmeyer and Aamer Madhani in Washington and Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed.

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