NATO Expansion: Into the Hallowed Halls of Policy
Into the Hallowed Halls of Policy
Publication date: 2022-01-28
Update 2022-01-29: a section of the statement regarding a part of the call between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and his USA counterpart Secretary of State Blinken is added in the “Updates” section.
Update 2022-02-30: included links to bio’s for both Tom and Fyodor.
As a salve to yesterday's alarmist opinion, let us enter the hallowed halls of academe, particularly that which advises governments on international relations and security policy. Before you dismiss policy discussions by "wonks", as the USA's media likes to label them, consider a statement by Edward Snowden as it relates to his motivations for providing journalists with classified documents detailing the USA's global surveillance regime:
Perhaps I am naive, but I believe that at this point in history, the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient State powers kept in check by nothing more than policy documents.
It is in these policy discussion spaces where wars can be avoided, where compromises can be found. Each of our two interlocutors are senior policy analysts for a relevant government, and thus are "advisers" whenever their opinion is sought. Representing the Russian Federation we have Fyodor Lukyanov, and for the United States of (northern) America Thomas 'Tom' Graham. Graham is a managing director of Kissinger and Associates, as outlined on his bio at Yale. Fyodor’s associations are with the Russian International Affairs council at which a bio is available.
The discussion is hosted by the Quincey Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Qi, as it abbreviates itself, is a relatively new "ThinkTank" in the USA. Qi pretty much lays out its intentions in it’s name. As we shall see, it has both some influence in Washington and has also gained the attention of some international relations researchers. Qi deserve acknowledgment for both hosting and importantly publishing this discussion such that we of the “unwashed masses” may listen in as flies on the wall and consider the policies and arguments offered.
While the analysts do consider the risks inherent in the current situation, they do not descend into considerations of military actions and outcomes; that is not “in their wheelhouse”. Their actions and analyses sit below the level of Presidents and Foreign Ministers, and even diplomats, but they can advise and influence their actions, especially in the event of international negotiations, which is the position in which we find ourselves.
The article below contains transcripts of the conversation made by the author. Thus, any errors are mine (and accidental). For some sections an analyst’s statements are paraphrased. A summary is offered at the end of each section. The entire webinar is included in Sources at the end.
Quotes from Fyodor are lightly edited to improve grammar, but never clarified by rewriting. I like the way Russians speak English, and wish to preserve Fyodor's language. As for Tom, self corrections are omitted, except where it is obvious that he was searching for a diplomatically correct term after having started with one that was sub-optimal. As a native English speaker, required grammatical corrections are rare.
All use of parenthesized quotes '[ ... ]' and any form of italics or bold, are by the author.
Stand alone numbers like [MM:SS] are timestamps in minutes and seconds to assist the reader in jumping around the video.
Notes of the body language of the key person not speaking are sometimes provided to emphasize agreement, disinterest or mirth.
First names are used throughout, as Anatol does when addressing his friends
Paragraph breaks are inserted for ease of reading, and likely do not equate with whatever the speaker would have chosen.
The webinar begins with Kelley introducing the speakers, rolling off their litany of credentials, and with a summary for the moderator Anatol Lieven she throws to him to begin the event.
Anatol describes their audience as
an immense audience, huge, more than 300 people
Yes, readers, welcome to the inner sanctum of people who pay attention to these matters. The video currently, as of 2022-01-28 21:22 UTC, has 1 476 views, and 4 of them are mine (watch, download, and twice checking view numbers).
Anatol is joyous at being able to moderate the discussion between two "old friends". Despite the seriousness of the discussion topic, at times a little playfulness emerges.
Annotation and Commentary
Anatol begins by asking Fyodor if the level of risk in the current situation has been over played in western media, and by its politicians, given the relative calm in both of the Russian and Ukrainian equivalents.
Fyodor begins by thanking Qi for being invited to participate and honoring them for "being one of the most interesting source[s] for 'considerate thinking'" on USA policy and international affairs.
His core response to the question is that yes, the alarm is coming from the west and particularly its media, but
this is the most important moment in European security situation since [the] 1990's, since [the] beginning of the new era, negotiations about German re-unification and everything what [which] followed. Why I think so? Because contrary to what is being discussed in the west and especially in particular in the United States this is not, for Russia, its not about Ukraine. Ukraine is a case, very important case, a vital case but is a case of bigger, a much bigger process which Russia followed for many years, even decades and now decided for reasons which we can discuss later, why now decided that this process should be stopped and reversed. And this is the process which is about basic principles of how European security should be organised. The principles as it emerged after the Cold War.
Why Ukraine, and of course the question you may ask immediately, why such a demonstrative movement of troops around Ukraine, Ukrainian borders, in April  and then in November ? I think, unfortunately, this is, given the obsession of the west with [the] Ukrainian issue, this is the only way to get attention. Because, here, I cannot deny what Putin and Lavrov are saying, all previous attempts by Russian representatives starting from 2000's when Russian Ministers, Presidents, Prime Ministers tried to put [the] question about we can adapt the European security system to the new realities and to the fact that Russia is unsatisfied.
All those claims were not even rejected, they were simply ignored. And, unfortunately, I would not say that I like it, but unfortunately at the end of the day the means, the instrument has been found [of] how to draw western attention. This is escalation in, ah, close to Ukraine.
But, again I absolutely believe war with Ukraine is absolutely not on the agenda. More than that, if something happens because of provocation, because of something else bad, that will be a real disaster for Russia and [a] real failure of Russian tactic[s] and strategy.
the issue is not Ukraine itself, but European security architecture in a "new era" (a term used later)
troop movements have been used by Russia as a way of gaining the attention of the USA, as all other methods had failed
Russia has no desire to invade Ukraine
If it all goes hot, then this is a tactical or strategic failure for Russia, and by extension, Putin
Anatol asks Tom if he agrees or believes that the risks of war are higher, or can the USA and/or western European countries address some of Russia's concerns:
By and large I agree with Fyodor's analysis. I think he's absolutely right that this is not simply about Ukraine. It really is about the broader question of the security architecture [in Europe], and this goes back to the end of the Cold War, and Russia would very clearly like to revise the settlement made at that time, at a time of tremendous weakness on the part of Russia: a clear sense in Moscow that Russia's interests weren't taken into account at that time. [...] In particular, Moscow has been concerned about what has occurred since 1997. That is the time of the NATO/Russia Founding Act and the expansion of NATO eastward. And, in fact, what we've seen since that time is a fairly "smooth" [he pauses looking for the adjective and phrase to follow] expansion of Euro-Atlantic institutions eastward across Europe up to Russia's border and Russia.
Since at least Putin's speech in Munich in the Munich Security Council in 2007 has been saying 'this is enough'. 'We need to discuss this. We need to take our interests into account. This is a threat to Russian security.'
And, Fyodor's absolutely right, the west basically didn't listen and didn't respond and Moscow has discovered that the way to get the west's attention is in fact by moving troops up to Ukraine's border. It worked extremely well back in the Spring. You remember at that time, the Biden administration had made it quite clear that Russia was not a priority, that it wanted to focus on China. It’s thought [? unclear] that Russia was little more than a disruptor on the international stage. But by raising concern about what may happen in Ukraine I think President Putin captured President Biden's attention which led to a proposal for a summit meeting in Geneva in June this past summer, something that the Biden administration hadn't planned on doing for well into his first term.
I don't think that Russia found that what happened, subsequent[ly] to that summit, has met all its needs. [...] The United States did not appear interested in taking about these broader issues of European security. In fact, what it wanted to do was pretty much put the Russian issue to the side so it could focus on China. And so, we got another build up in the fall, and that captured the attention once again. And one of the things that Russia has managed to do is to get the United States to agree and sit down and have talks. I think that is the primary goal of Russia at this point. We are in a negotiating process now, whether we call it negotiations or not. We are quite far apart; I think that's clear from the American and NATO responses to Russia's draft treaties which was delivered in Moscow just yesterday. But, nevertheless, we're looking forward to at least another, maybe a couple of more rounds of conversation to see whether its possible to come, aaah, or agree to a framework for negotiations, that would resolve some of these outstanding issues.
Now, my own view [he offers] is that what the United States has proposed so far; that we talk about a number of confidence building measures, arms control measures, is not going to be sufficient. We're going to have to address, at the end of the day, the question of NATO's eastward expansion. This is a principle concern for Russia. It is a fundamental question of European security arch- order and if we want to eliminate these intermittent crises with Russia then we're going to have to find a way to resolve that issue. The positions look irreconcilable at this point, but this is where I think creative diplomacy comes in, in an effort to try to find a bridge. That may not solve this this "forever" forever, but solves this for a long enough period that we can feel comfortable and calmer about the security situation in Europe.
Tom agrees that although the "crisis" is centered on Ukraine, the real issue is the European security architecture. The USA had not been paying attention, and even after the summit last (northern) summer there is still insufficient attention being paid to Russia's concerns.
Even the offered discussion of various "confidence building" measures, and arms control mechanisms are not enough. Its about NATO expansion.
"creative diplomacy" is required
he foreshadows what will later be his "solution" to the core problem when he says "solves this for long enough"
Anatol asks Fyodor whether Russia has "boxed itself in" due to its "demands" being so high or is that not really an issue? Is the establishment of diplomatic dialogue the key achievement?
Fyodor responds that the use of tension to generate diplomatic negotiations is a very old tactic that was seen throughout the Cold War too. The current "over reaction" is really because people have forgotten history. The 30 year period following the Cold War was exceptional and people have started to think that old methods of diplomatic initiative "stopped working". Understanding this, allows one to be less alarmed by the current situation.
Continuing, as for the diplomatic negotiating position being "too high", Putin is an experienced international statesman. His domestic support is sufficiently strong that he does not need to play hardball to generate further support.
Fyodor declares that the choice of demands in the treaties is deliberate and focused at the international level, not domestic.
He goes on to say that Putin has skills in reading other international players which in this case Fyodor believes that Putin engaged fully. Fyodor believes that the strong demands were a form of shock tactic, "to remove the west from a 'zone of comfort'". Tom is amused by this. Perhaps a dismissive amusement. Reminiscent of: “Oh, the Russian’s are playing psychological games again”?
Fyodor continues, noting that three months ago, nobody was talking, but they are now. Perhaps continuing with these rather blunt tactics is what will enlarge the space to find resolutions to the issues at hand. The discussion in the USA is changing, even asking "do we really need to expand NATO to include Ukraine?". At this point, Tom subtly nods. Fyodor continues that it is only after a basic political agreement is reached that the technicalities can be focused upon. To this point he will later return.
the media, and to a degree diplomatic, over reaction can be partially explained by people not having studied, or perhaps forgotten, history
if the demands are "too high" this is not due to Putin pitching to a domestic audience. He doesn’t need to. This is a deliberate choice.
the use of the "blunt" tactics of issuing strong demands and maneuvering troops within Russia has succeeded in not only forcing the USA to engage in discussion but also to shift the narrative in the USA itself, and perhaps continuing them is what is required to further widen the latitude for diplomatic dialogue
Anatol issues a very mixed compound question. He combines three parts in a question to Tom: the first is about "in an ideal world", and the last being about a "realist". In essence, the questions amount to "theoretically, what can be done by USA/NATO to address the security issues raised by Russia, and to what degree is the current or a future USA administration constrained, and while you're there, isn't the biggest issue China?"
Tom says "good set of questions" and continues:
It is a tense situation and there is a possibility of military conflict in Europe because of the escalation, both in the rhetoric and the movement of military personnel and equipment by both the Russians and NATO, ah, United States and NATO allies.
Tom is exposing his own limitations here. Russia is moving its military around inside its own borders on the border of a non-NATO member. She is arming in a limited manner, but advising, two enclaves of Russian speaking people, and Russian natives who are being threatened and attacked by an overthrown government which has essentially outlawed their language and is influenced by neo-Nazis. Russia has made no provocative statements towards anyone. It is demanding a response to its draft treaties. It is USA/NATO which is transporting both personnel and equipment to Ukraine to arm its client government which is allied with these neo-Nazis. And, it is the USA/NATO media which is escalating the rhetoric.
But that provides a backdrop to diplomacy and in fact concentrates the mind. Because when you focus on what the consequences of military conflict would be, catastrophic for Ukraine to begin with, but not without damage and serious consequences for Russia, Europe and even the United States, then you being to think more creatively about what might be possible to do in order to avoid that. Where can we find some common ground that allows us both, to move back from the current crisis to diffuse the tension and still manage to save face. Because, we've both laid out extreme positions at this point and we're both going to have to climb down if we want to find some resolution to this crisis.
Now, I also think that the current situation to think even more grandly about the situation. We should't be focused [just?] on the Ukraine the way we are in the United States. We should be focused on the European order [there's that word again] which has been under stress for some time and try to think creatively about how we might put it place the new order that would be more enduring for peace and security and prosperity across the continent, including Russia, as well as the United States.
This is quite a series of statements.
Firstly, he admits that it is impossible for the USA's security policy people to think creatively unless you threaten war. He's already admitted that the only way to get USA/NATO to the negotiating table was this escalation tactic outlined by Fyodor, so he's already "boxed himself in". He than claims that both sides have laid out extreme positions. I disagree.
Russia's DRAFT security treaty contains elements its knows it will never achieve, as Fyodor said early in a "legally binding form" (paraphrasing), but that draft is a basis for discussion not a "position". The USA/NATO rejection of this “hope” to prevent further membership of NATO in eastern Europe be a "legally binding" agreement was thoroughly expected and is also not an "extreme" position. Similarly, the rhetoric from Blinken about severe responses if Russia does anything militarily in Ukraine are also to be expected; the USA has a client government to placate. This is also not an "extreme" position, but an expected one. So, I reject this "extreme" positions claim.
Tom then re-affirms the earlier agreement that this is not about Ukraine, but European security architecture, but liberally doses his words with USA terminology of "European order" and a "new order" for "enduring" peace, security and prosperity. It is worth watching Fyodor as Tom delivers this word salad of platitudes and terminology. While repeatedly distracted by his children in the background, he has his chin on the heel of his left hand.
To my mind there are three elements to this. We need to introduce "restraint" in military activity along the long NATO/Russia frontier stretching from the Arctic to the Baltic sea down to the Black sea. We need to deal with the issue of NATO expansion eastward. And we need to find a way to resolve the ongoing and frozen conflicts in the former Soviet space and in the Balkans.
Here, Tom has basically outlines 3 of the 4 components which will solve the problem. The missing one is the "political" document which Fyodor raises soon.
Fyodor is absolutely right. On the issue of restraint, the United Space because, I think, of some of the things that Russia has done over the past several months has finally decided that this in area about which we can finally talk about. If you listen to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, yesterday, that was the thrust of the written response to the Russians. No, we're not going to talk about NATO expansion, but here are a set of sort of confidence building measures, arms control measures, that we believe will diffuse tension. So, we're prepared to talk about restraint.
I think its this, ... as we get into the negotiation we're going to have to find a formula so that we can put NATO expansion on the agenda. Ya know, we could call it "Principles of European Security Architecture", for example. And, the challenge here is to bridge the gap between what appear to be irreconcilable positions, the United States insisting on NATO's open door, of Russia insisting Ukraine in particularly but other former Soviet states cannot join NATO, because that would present an unacceptable threat to Russia's own security.
And so what I've proposed [!!! to whom???] is a moratorium on NATO's eastward expansion for a period that is long enough so that Moscow can claim that in fact has put the question of NATO expansion eastward pretty much off the table, 'cause it isn't going to happen in my lifetime and it may not happen in the life of NATO itself [!!!???]. But, a period that is short enough so that the United States and its NATO allies can still credibly claim that they haven't shut the door forever. What that period is, I don't know, but I think its possible to find that. [Watch as Fyodor soon leans back in his chair.]
That also builds on what I think is the clear reality that no one in the west is prepared to admit Ukraine into NATO any time in the near future. It hasn't consolidated its democracy enough. Its still very corrupt. [Like the USA isn't !!] And there are tensions with Russia. And there's not NATO member that wants to bring Ukraine into NATO and accept the responsibility to protect it against Russia at this point. So, I think there's a creative way to get out of this.
And then on the frozen and ongoing conflicts, as I've noted, these are all questions of separatism. And the question here is whether we can devise a set of procedures that would make separatism legitimate in the eyes, if not the international community, then of European states. And I think that through a combination of referenda and the resolution of certain political, economic types of issues, that's possible. We ought to take these agreed procedures and apply them in a pro-forma way to two most prominent confl- issues of separatism, Crimea and Kosovo. Which will in fact validate that which we all know to be true, which is that Kosovo is going to remain independent of Serbia, Crimea is not going to return to Ukraine. Its going to remain a part of Russia. And, therefore kinda take those issues off the table, as well.
Tom notes that this would be a significant change in that way the USA has pursued its European security policies, and would require a strong president. Does the Biden administration have the political capital? Tom's conclusion is that if patience is applied, the requirement for a limit on NATO expansion will become "more attractive" by which one may assume "essential".
agrees to most of what Fyodor sees as essential components of a potential resolution
proposes the "moratorium" for a limited time solution to the core NATO expansion problem
proposes that separatism is a lens through which to view the frozen conflicts in former USSR states
all of the above may take quite some political capital to invest
Anatol gets his mojo back and cracks an Elizabethan literary joke.
Separatism doth never prosper.
What's the reason?
For if it prosper,
none dare call it separatism.
[Laughter all 'round].
Anatol asks Fyodor if the mechanism of "separatism" is a useful mechanic for use in these "frozen" conflicts, particularly beyond the current Ukraine situation?
Fyodor responds most playfully that Anatol should invite somebody different next time else people may mistakenly think that there are no disagreements between Russia and the USA.
[Tom laughs, and Anatol counters actually, in contrast to the general commentariat, its a pleasant variant.]
Fyodor's statement outlining the "big" most difficult part, is so important that its requires transcription:
To summarize how I see the hypothetical solution, which is far away us. We're not there yet very much. But, it should include three big elements. One big element, which is the most complicated one, because the atmosphere is not good for such discussions, but it should be something like a new Helsinki Act or a new Paris charter, even, if you want.
[Tom nods, repeatedly].
Which, both documents were not legally binding, by the way. [Tom still nodding] They were big political statements, but very big political statements, products, especially Helsinki final Act, products of a long negotiations about principles of European security.
What we would theoretically would need now is a something like a document of this style which would be formulated in [an] extremely elegant way, of course. And this is the work for diplomats; how to do it. Which will, on the one hand reinstate all those beautiful principles of indivisibility of security and everybody's right to do everything, and so on. But, at the same time to stress that this is a new era beginning, new period beginning. The period which was launched by [the] Paris Charter is over, and now [we] are moving to the next stage when everything is slightly different. Which means that those axiomatic rights from the previous period are not axiomatic any more. [...] The NATO doors are open, but to enter you need a pass.
Fyodor continues with the other two elements he sees as essential to addressing the core issues at hand:
Thereafter come the detailed discussions on arms control and other forms of restraint. Nonetheless, these are important
Fyodor modifies Tom's proposal of separatist procedures into using federalization instead. In this scenario, borders are preserved, but a federation is created whereby external "regional powers" if you like, can influence the government to avoid serious security problems which may be created by changes in defense cooperation.
Tom jumps in to disagree, in which largely he does not.
Interestingly, Fyodor laughs.
Tom raises the issue of including the voices of both the existing community in the "separatist" area, and also of those that would return were stability reestablished. [Okay, how do you propose to do that?] The key point is of not imposing federation, but having the local population engaged in political change. [This makes absolute sense, else the "new" situation is unstable.]
He goes on to provide an eminently understandable and most important point. The USA's commentariat looks at USA/Russia issues in very absolutist terms, that "Russia must back down". However, in this crisis there are vital interests for Russia, and she will suffer a tremendous amount of sacrifice in order to defend her interests. Thus, its all good old compromise. He returns to "endure". The compromises during negotiation need to include the minimal security requirements of both sides so that post negotiation the settlement itself can endure.
Anatol comes back with a quite insightful point about diplomacy and negotiation:
Indeed, [the art of diplomacy is] to help your adversary or interlocutor to retreat from his maximal positions without humiliation.
Tom heartily agrees.
Anatol moves to questions from the audience.
The questions from the audience section continues to be very interesting, but the annotation stops here.
The discussion produces a small collection of not-too-easy-to-achieve-just-now policy solutions which would not only address the current "crisis" around Ukraine, but potentially form the basis of a policy platform for adjusting the security architecture in Europe. These measures would not only solve the existing challenge, but provide a basis either through an European process to recognize separatist areas, or via the use of federalization, diffuse tension in existing political hot spots.
Achieving these results via the proposed and/or other measures would be good for both Russia, the EU and more widely European security. On face value, it would also assist the USA in not having to invest energy into addressing these matters.
However, the equivalent is true for Russia. Should the USA then place its gaze upon China, Russia would be less restrained in directing support to her ally.
For our commentators, it was a pleasure to hear them speak. They are quite pleased to be able to refer to very significant international security documents of which this author had never heard, despite quite some research. The two occasions on which Tom needed to choose his words more carefully indicate that we are not far below the diplomatic layer. These people have families and lives, and no doubt wish to continue to pursue their careers.
Lastly, I would like to thank Qi for hosting and publishing the discussion. It has been most educational.
The games continue.
With all of the coordination between disavowed allies, how long will the “confidential” USA/NATO response remain buried?
Far more importantly, how long can Russia still play the western media to create the pressure to maintain political focus on her and away from China?
Of course, the front and centre issue identified by Fyodor and Tom, NATO expansion, is the issue being called by Lavrov.
Binken calls Wang Yi
On Thursday 2022-01-27 USA Secretary of State initiated a call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Various topics were discussed, one of which was the situation in Ukraine. The Chinese Foreign Ministry have not issued a "readout" of the call, which suggests that it was rather agitated. Instead, they have issued a statement to their various embassies, which Alexander Mercouris managed to obtain, and which he reads in a recent video piece.
From this, the following transcription is obtained. Recall, Blinken in speaking with his Chinese counterpart. Regarding the situation in Ukraine:
Wang Yi said:
"to solve the Ukrainian issue it is still necessary to return to the new Minsk Agreement (i.e the 2015 Minsk Accords). The new Minsk agreement, endorsed by the UN Security Council, is a basic political document recognized by all parties and should be implemented earnestly. China will support any effort that conforms to the direction and spirit of this agreement. At the same time, we call on parties to remain calm and refrain from inflaming tensions or hyping up the crisis."
Wang Yi stressed:
"the security of one country should not be at the expense of the security of others, and regional security should not be guaranteed by strengthening or even expanding military blocks. Today, in the 21st century, all parties should completely abandon the Cold War mentality and form a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiations, with Russia's legitimate security concerns being taken seriously and addressed."
At this point, Mr. Blinken must have been asking “am I talking to Wang Yi or Sergei Lavrov?”
Door slams shut.
Can War In Ukraine Be Avoided? An American-Russian Conversation, Fyodor Lukyanov and Thomas Graham mediated by Anatol Lieven, Quicey Institute, 2022-01-28
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answer to a media question, Moscow, January 27, 2022, Russian Federation Foreign Ministry, 2022-01-27
Lavrov Rejects Talks with US on 'Secondary Issues', Insists on US Acceptance of Russia's Red Lines, Alexander Mercouris, his youtube channel, 2022-01-28
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