Washington and the World

We’ll never agree with the Russian leader on principles, but we might be able to negotiate a better security structure for Europe.

Flags on display prior to talks between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 10, 2022. | Denis Balibouse/Pool via AP


01/10/2022 06:09 PM EST

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Thomas Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was the senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff during the George W. Bush administration.

Rajan Menon is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations at the Powell School, City College of New York; senior research scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace at Columbia University; and director of the grand strategy program at Defense Priorities.

The talks on European security that are now underway between the U.S. and Russia will be difficult because the two countries don’t trust one another, not even a little.

Many in the West are convinced that Moscow actually wants the discussions to fail, and quickly, because it wants a pretext for attacking Ukraine, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin has already decided to do so. Why else, they ask, would he have made public two draft treaties — one between Russia and the United States, the other between Russia and NATO — that insist on binding Western guarantees relating to Russia’s security, and with obviously unacceptable terms, such as a ban on further NATO expansion or U.S. security cooperation with former Soviet states? Others insist that the United States should demand that Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine’s border before agreeing to start negotiations: no talks, they argue, while a Russian gun is pointed at Ukraine’s head.

But Russia is almost certain to keep its troops and arms in place until serious negotiations begin, if not longer. It began building up troops around Ukraine from 2015 onward, though it beefed up the number recently. Moreover, Putin reportedly told his diplomats in mid-November that a certain amount of tension would force the West to take Russia seriously.

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