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Russia demands NATO leave Eastern Europe

Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and eventual annexation of Crimea in 2014, the country has garnered international attention. The underlying point of contention has been Russia’s unease over Ukraine’s growing relations with EU, NATO and USA. Once a part of USSR, Russia desires to retain its influence over its neighbor. Throughout the course of the conflict, efforts have been made by parties to reach a diplomatic settlement and resolve contentions for instance the Minsk Accords (2015) but they have proved to be unsuccessful. Increasing Ukrainian insecurity propelled NATO and EU to forge deeper political, security and economic ties with the country. In response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, NATO has enhanced its presence in the Black Sea and extended maritime cooperation to Ukraine. In 2020, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy approved a new National Security Strategy which calls for the development of a distinctive partnership with NATO with the eventual goal of acquiring membership. Ukraine also remains a critical ally for EU as both experience close political and economic relations. Economic relations between EU and Ukraine are governed by two agreements signed in 2017 namely Ukraine-EU Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Ukraine made amendments in its constitution in 2019 to fulfill the membership requirements of both EU and NATO and intends to join the two blocs soon. Recently tensions between the West and Russia have flared up again in December 2021 as the latter has amassed about 90,000 troops along the Ukrainian border. USA, NATO and EU have warned of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine and are demanding the country to dismantle troops alongside Ukraine’s border while Russia has denied such claims. Nevertheless, Russian leadership has stressed that the country retains the right to “defend its security” if the NATO continues to expand eastward. 

Russia’s demands for NATO 

Amidst NATO, EU and USA’s demands for Russia to dismantle troops, the country has laid out its own demands for NATO. Documents were submitted by Russia to USA and its Western allies outlining mainly six demands. Firstly, Russia has demanded that NATO put an end to its military activities in the Eastern European region, including those being carried out in cooperation with Ukraine. Secondly, NATO should not expand its membership beyond existing states, especially to Ukraine. Thirdly, shorter- range or intermediate missiles to not be deployed close enough so as to threaten the territory of Russia and its neighbors. Fourthly, Russia has agreed to establish a border zone as long as military exercises beyond one military brigade are not conducted. Fifthly, Russia has also called for an agreement that entails the peaceful resolution of disputes. Lastly, Moscow demanded that neither USA nor it can deploy nuclear weapons beyond their national territorial boundaries. In short, these draft security pacts of Russia demand NATO to deny membership to countries that were previously part of USSR and decrease NATO’s military and security presence in central and Eastern Europe. Russia has called onto Western countries to discuss these terms in a meeting at Geneva. Sergei Ryabkov, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia has stated that Moscow’s relations with NATO and USA have reached a dangerous point as NATO’s activities continue t pose a threat to the security of Russia. President Putin has blamed the West for rising tensions over Ukraine claiming that Russia is merely responding to NATO expansionism. He has warned that the country is ready to take “appropriate military-technical measures” to respond to the threat posed by NATO. 

NATO’s response 

USA has responded to Russian demands by arguing that Moscow does not get to decide NATO membership and stated that no negotiations will be conducted with Russia without first taking into account the interests of its European allies. Jen Psaki, Press Secretary of the White House stated that the key principles upon which Europe’s security has been built will not be compromised. Countries, such as Ukraine, are free to decide their own foreign policy and future free from any and all forms of external interferences and pressures. Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor said that Washington is ready to hold dialogues with Russia. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General proclaimed that in order to ensure the security of Eastern Europe, it is important that Russia also cater to NATO’s concerns over Russia’s actions, respect the documents and key principles of European security and conduct consultations with not just USA or NATO but also EU and Ukraine. NATO member states have declared that once Russia takes concrete actions to de-escalate tensions alongside the Ukrainian border, the alliance is ready to strengthen confidence building measures. 

Analysis: Unraveling Russia’s intentions 

Experts have argued that Russia’s current demands are merely a smoke screen to distract the West and the world from its true objectives. Moscow has deliberately put forth demands that it knows would be unacceptable to NATO, US and EU therefore allowing the country to retain its military presence alongside Ukraine’s border. The rhetoric of Russia leadership in the last few hours showcases that Russia is planning for military action and will pin the blame of Russian aggression on the failure of Western efforts to engage in a fruitful dialogue with the country. The number of troops along the border has already risen to 100,000, translating Western fears of a Russian invasion into an inevitable reality. Thus, Russia’s efforts to engage with the West over Ukraine may as well be a diplomatic distraction. Russia is playing a dangerous gamble that could possibly provoke a proxy war in the Eastern European region. As of now, it is not clear what Russia aims to achieve with its list of demands as scholars continue to speculate its true intentions. However, one thing is clear, Russia will continue to resist NATO in the region and prevent its eastward expansion. Ukraine is strategically critical for the country as it provides a buffer between Russia and the capitalist West, therefore losing the country to NATO and EU is not an option for Russia. But it is still unknown to what lengths Moscow is willing to go to retain Ukraine. 

Written By: Olivium's Staff.


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