The US and NATO’s written response to Vladimir Putin’s defense demands has gone as badly as expected in Moscow. The Russian leader is contemplating an answer.
The most important Russian demand – the guarantee that NATO will not expand further in Eastern Europe – has therefore not been met. The United States and the US-led military alliance have now indicated that they do not agree verbally and in black-and-white with Russia’s mandatory guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO. The demand for the withdrawal of all Western troops from NATO countries, which were once Communist East allies, has been set aside.
“We can not say that our views were taken into account,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov subtly. President Putin is said to be reading the text with his advisers. However, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to have opened the door to further talks, “hoping that a serious dialogue on secondary issues would begin”.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blingen said on Wednesday that the Russians would be offered a “serious diplomatic path” to defuse the situation. More than 100,000 Russian troops have been concentrated on the Ukrainian border for almost three months now. According to Putin, these are exercises; U.S. military experts still believe that the Russian leader wants to occupy part of Ukraine (mostly: Donbass) between now and mid-February. There are also speculations about a politically relevant moment after the Olympic winter games in Beijing. Putin will go there next week as a guest and an avid fan of the Russian ice hockey team. A Russian attack during the Chinese scene is certainly not appreciated by its Chinese patrons, who want to shine a slick system in front of the world and are already content to ask annoying questions from human rights groups about Uyghurs and Hong Kong. The final day of the competition is February 20th. After a few weeks, the land in Ukraine will still be frozen to the point of carrying heavy equipment, after which much of Ukraine will become muddy and unable to attack on a large scale. Tanks again until summer. In response to growing tensions over Ukraine, China has said it “understands Russia’s concerns.”
Glimmers of hope
In the glimmer of hope for a diplomatic path, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky remained positive about “constructive consultations” in Paris on Wednesday. Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met there for the first time in months with French and German diplomats. The talks focused on the specific situation in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are pushing to join Russia. The talks will continue in two more weeks. French President Macron will meet with his Russian counterpart Putin tomorrow on the impasse. Macron still thinks there is a diplomatic way.
Meanwhile, the United States and Germany have made it clear that the test on Ukraine would mark the end of Russia’s much-desired gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, which connects Russia directly with Germany. The plan is to bring in the Russian treasury – under normal circumstances – to welcome billions in addition to the existing gas pipeline to various countries running right through Ukraine. But for technical reasons Nord Stream 2 has not been launched yet. A U.S. State Department spokesman said that if the Russian attack happened, it would not happen. Germans and Americans will agree. Ukraine, meanwhile, is receiving more and more Western military aid, which Ukrainian authorities still regard as very low.
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