In fact, few serious negotiations begin with one side drafting, let alone publishing, an entire agreement. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move has the feel of an ultimatum. And ultimatums, as we know from history, are often pretexts for annexation or war. Leaders in Washington, Brussels and Kyiv should be worried that Putin does not really want to negotiate a new agreement on European security. His deployment of 175,000 troops on the border suggests, instead, that he is more interested in escalating the current war in eastern Ukraine.
But what if Putin really wants to talk about European security? If so, U.S., Canadian and European leaders should embrace the opportunity. Some of the great pillars of European security of the past — the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, the Vienna Document, the Paris Charter, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances for Ukraine and the Helsinki Final Act — are either now defunct or no longer serving their originally intended purposes.
Many of the demands in the draft treaties now floated by Putin, however are nonstarters and violate agreements Moscow signed before. To mention but one example, great powers cannot dictate to other countries what multilateral organizations that can and cannot join — contrary to Moscow’s expressed desire to limit’s Ukraine choices regarding affiliations with European security institutions. That violates the Helsinki Final Act. Still, a few ideas in the Russian treaties are worthy of discussion, including limits on arms, deployments and exercises.
But if there is to be a serious negotiation on a new European security architecture, then the Russian government must accept two kinds of friendly amendments to their draft proposals — changes in the participants and an expansion of the agenda.
First, on participants. As made clear by his proposals for a treaty between the United States and Russia, Putin wants a replay of the 1945 Yalta agreement (in Russia they even speak of “Yalta 2.0”). In this new version, the United States and Russia (this time excluding Britain) would carve out spheres of influence in Europe. That is completely unacceptable.
Putin also wants to negotiate a second treaty on NATO with Washington — over the heads of many European countries. That is also a nonstarter. All European countries would have to be included in such negotiations. The Organization for European Security and Cooperation in Europe is the obvious venue, whose members include the United States, the other members of NATO and Russia, but also Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. We need a Helsinki 2.0, not a Yalta 2.0, so that smaller countries in Eastern Europe can be assured that Moscow and Washington will be discussing “nothing about us without us.”
Second, the menu of European security issues outlined in the Russian proposals must be expanded dramatically. Russian actions and policies undermining European security must also be addressed, not forgotten. Here are some additional amendments to the Russian draft treaties.
To enhance European security and strengthen the sovereignty of all European countries, Russia must agree to withdraw its soldiers and weapons from the territory of the Republic of Moldova.
To jump-start real negotiations to restore the territorial integrity of Georgia, Russia must renounce its recognition of the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries.
To recommit to the set of treaties, agreements and multilateral institutions that helped to strengthen European security at the end of World War II, including most importantly the norm against annexation, Russia must return Crimea to Ukraine and end support for violent separatist movements in eastern Ukraine.
To enhance strategic stability in Europe, Russia must remove its SS-26 Iskander missiles from Kaliningrad and all other deployment locations that allow this highly accurate missile to attack European targets in minutes. Russia should also remove from Kaliningrad all tactical nuclear weapons. Talks on new limits on these kinds of weapons throughout Europe could then begin.
To strengthen the sovereignty of all members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia must commit to stopping the theft of digital property, ending direct support of anti-democratic individuals and organizations, and curtailing disinformation operations that aim to disrupt free and fair elections and democratic practices more broadly.
To enhance the security of individual Europeans — a norm codified in numerous European security agreements that Moscow has already signed — Russia must commit to ending assassination operations, such as those conducted in the European cities of London, Moscow, Salisbury, Berlin and Tomsk. Russia also must pledge to stop aiding European dictators who kill and arrest Europeans exercising freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
There are many other important European security issues that also need new attention. But this list of amendments to the Russian draft treaties is a good place to test whether Putin is serious about an actual negotiation on a new European security architecture — or whether he’s interested merely in issuing an ultimatum, designed purposely to be rejected, as a pretext for greater military action against Ukraine.