How Russia justifies its power interests

Status: 10.01.2022 8:56 a.m.

Russia is demanding security guarantees from the US and NATO. It wants to secure control over its neighborhood in this way. The states there do not want to bow to imperial claims.

By Silvia Stöber,

“A question of life and death” are security guarantees for Russia – President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on December 25th. These must be given immediately, legally binding and unconditional, so the demands from Russia. If they are not met, Putin threatens a “military-technical answer”.

Specifically, the Kremlin is concerned with a treaty between Russia and the USA on security guarantees and an agreement between Russia and NATO. Russia submitted both draft treaties to the US government on December 15 and published them two days later on the Russian State Department’s website.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov is urging the utmost urgency. At the same time, he speaks of the need to fundamentally redefine Europe’s security. Both drafts touch on the current security architecture of Europe. But the main addressee is the US government.

Far-reaching requirements

Russia demands that NATO revert to the state of May 17, 1997, when the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed. As a result, no military activities by NATO should take place in countries of the former Warsaw Pact. This would affect NATO members Poland, the Baltic States, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In addition, these include the countries of the Western Balkans and all now independent states that formerly belonged to the Soviet Union.

In the NATO-Russia Founding Act, NATO committed itself not to permanently station any major combat units in the new member states. Placing nuclear missiles there should be completely taboo. Only after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 did the alliance send small multinational battle groups to the Baltic states and Poland, which rotate every six months.

Limited sovereignty

Russia also demands that no new states join NATO, which would deprive them of their sovereignty to freely decide on their foreign policy. NATO would have to break its “open door” principle and the promise it made to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008.

So far, however, there has been no will among the Allies to even pave the way for both states to be accepted through the “Membership Action Plan”. Since this is not to be expected in the foreseeable future either, NATO developed programs to strengthen cooperation and the defense capabilities of the two countries. NATO representatives formulated the motto for the South Caucasus Republic: More NATO in Georgia and more Georgia in NATO. This is comparable with the Ukraine.

This involves training and military exercises, but also the delivery of weapons for defense – although individual NATO states have so far only met the wishes of both countries to a limited extent. For example, under US President Donald Trump, Ukraine received anti-tank missiles of the Javelin type from the USA for the first time, but so far, for example, no anti-aircraft missiles of the Stinger type. Turkey has decided on extensive cooperation with Ukraine and has supplied Bayraktar drones.

Claim to the Black Sea

NATO’s policy has resulted in all of the countries bordering the Black Sea – with the exception of Russia – being members of NATO or cooperating with it. For the Russian armed forces, however, access from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean is of great strategic importance.

The annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea was an expression of this Russian security doctrine. Most recently, the deployment of Russian “peacekeepers” to Kazakhstan showed the importance the Kremlin attaches to a military presence in the former Soviet republics.

Putin recently justified historically what the Russian leadership claims as a zone of influence: The end of the Soviet Union was the breakup of “historic Russia”. “A significant part of what has been worked out over the course of 1,000 years has been lost.”

The Russian economist Wladislaw L. Inozemzew commented on this in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”: Russia wants to maintain control over the former empire and is relying on the submission of its neighbors. This is incompatible with states that integrate their neighbors in such a way that supranational polities or at least alliances among equals arise.

Missile threat

In view of the demands of Russia, the non-NATO members Finland and Sweden once again made it clear that they would choose their own alliances and not accept them if the security architecture of Europe were to be reorganized over their heads. The other EU states also want to be included.

Among other things, Russia is proposing to the US that it refrain from using ground-based medium and short-range weapons that could hit the territory of the respective opposing side. This would amount to an end to nuclear participation within NATO, in which European NATO countries provide aircraft that can transport US nuclear weapons.

However, Russia could continue to station its missiles on its western border, in the Crimea and in Kaliningrad, which is less than 300 kilometers as the crow flies from Warsaw and 530 kilometers from Berlin. In addition, Russia claims that it will soon have hypersonic missiles that can hardly be intercepted by conventional anti-aircraft missiles ready for use and that they could also be launched from ships. Then US territory would also potentially be in danger without missiles having to be stationed in Cuba.

The advancement of weapons and the end of disarmament treaties and the increase in military activities require new security arrangements, mutual controls and communication channels in case of emergency. The drafts of Russia contain proposals for this. The US government has signaled a willingness to talk in these areas.

As one of the countries in the vicinity of Russia, Turkey also made it clear that security guarantees cannot be a unilateral matter: “A proposal should be acceptable to both sides. Russia has made proposals, perhaps NATO expects the same guarantees of Russia, “said Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu.

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