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Russia broadens security demands from West, seeking to curb U.S. and NATO influence on borders

Western nations are concerned that President Vladimir Putin may be planning a new attack on Ukraine. (Mikhail Metzel/Pool/Sputnik/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

MOSCOW — Russia on Friday spelled out its demands for sweeping new security guarantees from the United States and NATO, seeking pledges that would halt NATO’s eastward expansion and block U.S. military ties with former Soviet states.

The central tenets of Russia’s “sphere of influence” doctrine — including demands for an effective veto over other nations’ foreign and security policies — have repeatedly been dismissed as nonstarters by NATO officials. A senior Biden administration official described some of Russia’s demands as “unacceptable” to Washington and said Moscow “knows that.”

But the latest announcement by the Kremlin underscored its escalating confrontation with the West over Ukraine, which Russia views as part of its political orbit. It also raised worries among analysts that Moscow is making requests that it knows the United States will not agree to, seeking to send a message domestically and create a pretext for possible military action against Ukraine once those demands are spurned.

Russia published two lists of demands — for Washington and for NATO — the latter calling for the removal of all NATO military infrastructure installed in Eastern European countries after 1997, effectively attempting to rework the consequences of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, which left Russia weakened for years.

The demands for NATO also seek to prevent the alliance from carrying out any military activity outside its territory in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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A senior Biden administration official, during a briefing with reporters Friday, said it was unhelpful to conduct the negotiations in public.

The official said the United States will not compromise on key principles on which European security is built, including the right of all countries “to decide their own future and their own foreign policy, free from outside interference.”

“There are some things in those documents that the Russians know will be unacceptable. You know, they know that,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic matter. “But there are other things that we are prepared to work with and merit some discussion.”

The official did not give details about what could be on the table for negotiations, but issues such as weapons deployments and military exercises have been part of previous talks between Washington and Moscow.

Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine has raised Western alarm that President Vladimir Putin may be weighing a new attack on his neighbor, where Kyiv’s forces have battled Russian-backed separatists since 2014 in a conflict that has claimed about 14,000 lives. Russia denies that it plans any move across the border but has used the crisis to press its demand that Ukraine stay out of NATO.

Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations on Friday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the assessment of the U.S. government remains that Putin hasn’t made a decision about whether to invade Ukraine again. He said the U.S. intelligence analysis indicating that Russia is preparing for such an invasion is “well validated.”

“Russia has now put on the table its concerns with American and NATO activities. We’re going to put on the table our concern with Russian activities that we believe harm our interests and values,” Sullivan said. “That’s the basis of reciprocity, upon which you would pursue any kind of dialogue. We can make progress in some areas, and in other areas, we’re just going to have to disagree.”

In a video meeting last week, President Biden warned Putin that Russia would face tough new sanctions in the case of a military escalation against Ukraine. The European Union is also debating possible new sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.

Ukrainians in Kyiv voiced concern on Dec. 15, as the threat of another Russian invasion has some in the region on edge. (Video: The Washington Post)

Russia’s demand that NATO bar the admission of Ukraine, Georgia or any other country on NATO’s eastern flank has long been ruled out by the alliance.

“Moscow has not only been asking for things it cannot get, but in a way they know will ensure they cannot attain them. Serious negotiations are done behind closed doors. Something is very wrong with this picture,” tweeted military analyst Michael Kofman of the CNA security think tank, adding that Russia’s mounting demands “should make one pessimistic about the trajectory.”

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The deal Russia seeks with the United States — which is certain to be rejected by Washington — would significantly weaken Ukraine, forcing it to abandon its aspirations to join NATO and cutting Kyiv off from U.S. military aid and weapons.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, amplified the pressure from Moscow, calling for urgent action to begin talks immediately.

“There is no readiness to even enter into negotiations from the other side, but let’s see what happens next,” he said.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday in Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba questioned why Russia released its proposals to the public.

“Does it understand that these initiatives are not feasible, and therefore they do not expect any positive reaction from the United States, or do they want to turn these negotiations into a big PR campaign?” Kuleba asked.

He added that Russia’s effort to dictate Ukraine’s relationship with Western powers was “out of the question,” and he expected NATO and the United States to flatly reject it. “I mean, the very idea is embarrassing,” he added. “So I don’t think that either the United States or NATO will actually accept it in principle.

A senior U.S. official indicated Friday that the Biden administration is considering sending Ukraine additional military equipment, including Mi-17 helicopters, initially planned for the Afghan military before the Taliban toppled the U.S.-allied government in Kabul. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The United States escalated its military aid to Ukraine during the Trump administration to include defensive weapons, angering Russia, and a continued expansion would probably do the same.

A Pentagon spokesman, Marine Lt. Col. Anton T. Semelroth, said the United States has delivered to Ukraine in the past 65 days military equipment including 180 Javelin missiles and 30 command launch units for them, as well as two Island-class patrol boats.

The shipments over the last 65 days had been planned for some time, however, before the recent Russian military buildup at the Ukrainian border.

Sullivan was asked Friday why the Biden administration hasn’t significantly expanded the $450 million in military aid to Ukraine that was already slated before the most recent Russia buildup. He said the United States “is constantly assessing additional needs that Ukraine has,” noting that a number of packages are “actively under consideration.”

The senior Biden administration official said the United States is prepared to enter talks and is discussing with allies the best format for the negotiations on Russia’s long list of demands. The United States plans to get back to Moscow sometime next week with a more concrete proposal on how to proceed, the official said.

As the diplomatic conversations get underway, they stand a far better chance of succeeding if Russia de-escalates the situation on the border with Ukraine, Sullivan said.

“It’s very difficult to see agreements getting consummated if we’re continuing to see an escalatory cycle,” Sullivan said.

The United States is hoping to see a Christmastime cease-fire in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia-backed separatists, as well as another prisoner exchange, the senior administration official said.

The official also expressed concern “about Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric and pushing a false narrative that Ukraine is somehow seeking to provoke a conflict with Russia.”

“There is no aggressive action on the part of the Ukrainians,” the official noted.

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Russia sees Ukraine as a crucial security buffer and sphere of influence, with officials in Moscow from Putin down questioning its stability and sovereignty in recent months. The Kremlin’s irritation with Ukraine’s tilt toward Europe and Kyiv’s pressure to join NATO has boiled over into anger at NATO’s post-Cold War expansion into Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, beginning in the late 1990s.

At a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials last month, Putin griped about NATO’s refusal to hear Russia’s complaints about the bloc’s expansion and called on top Russian diplomats to hammer out a tough new security deal with the Western alliance, including written guarantees.

Some analysts warned Friday that the chances of compromise appeared to be receding, given Russia’s escalating demands.

Earlier this week, Russia sent a draft security agreement to the United States that would rule out Washington deploying weapons or forces outside its territory, “where such deployment would be perceived by the other party as a threat to its national security.”

It calls on Washington “to refuse to admit to the [NATO] alliance states that were previously part of the U.S.S.R.,” including Ukraine and Georgia.

The draft agreement also demands that the United States not establish military bases on the territory of former Soviet states outside NATO, nor “use their infrastructure for any military activity, or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”

This would rule out Washington negotiating with Central Asian nations on the possibility of stationing U.S. bases in the region to be able to confront Islamic State groups in Afghanistan.

“We do not set any deadlines. We are inviting them to begin the negotiations without delays and without stalling,” Ryabkov said.

“We hope that President Putin will take this opportunity for diplomacy and will also listen to the needs of his own people,” the senior Biden administration official added.

Sonne reported from Washington. Isabelle Khurshudyan in Kyiv and Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.

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