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US Diplomacy In The Lead-Up To Russia’s War On Ukraine


In its excellent article on the lead-up to the war, the Washington Post describes some of the diplomatic contacts in the attempt to avert the war. The bottom line is that Russia wasn’t having any.

June 16, 2021: Biden meets with Putin. No indication that Putin plans a war, but two weeks later, his screed on Ukraine’s rightful place in the Russian Empire is released.

End of October: Biden meets leaders of Britain, France, and Germany at the side of the G20 meeting.

November 2: CIA Director William Burns meets with Putin, Yuri Ushakov, and Nikolai Patrushev (Putin advisors).

There seemed to be no room for meaningful engagement, and it left the CIA director to wonder if Putin and his tight circle of aides had formed their own echo chamber. Putin had not made an irreversible decision to go to war, but his views on Ukraine had hardened, his appetite for risk had grown, and the Russian leader believed his moment of opportunity would soon pass.

Mid-November: Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, meets with NATO.

“A number of members raised questions and were skeptical of the idea that President Putin was seriously preparing for the possibility of a large-scale invasion,” Haines recalled.

“American intelligence is not considered to be a naturally reliable source,” said François Heisbourg, a security expert and longtime adviser to French officials. “It was considered to be prone to political manipulation.”

The Europeans began to settle into camps that would change little for several months.

Repetition of the intelligence caused it slowly to sink in.

December 7:

Putin and Biden spoke on a video call. Putin claimed that the eastward expansion of the Western alliance was a major factor in his decision to send troops to Ukraine’s border. Russia was simply protecting its own interests and territorial integrity, he argued.

Biden responded that Ukraine was unlikely to join NATO any time soon, and that the United States and Russia could come to agreements on other concerns Russia had about the placement of U.S. weapons systems in Europe. In theory, there was room to compromise.

Early January: Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman meets with Sergey Ryabkov, her Russian counterpart.

He reiterated Moscow’s position on Ukraine, formally offered in mid-December in two proposed treaties — that NATO must end its expansion plans and halt any activity in countries that had joined the alliance after 1997, which included Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic states.

Rejecting the proposal to close NATO’s doors and reduce the status of existing members, the administration instead offered talks and trust-building measures in a number of security areas, including the deployment of troops and the placement of weapons on NATO’s eastern flank along the border with Russia. The offer was conditioned on de-escalation of the military threat to Ukraine. Ryabkov told Sherman that Russia was disappointed in the American attitude.

December: Intelligence offensive begins with US announcing that Russia plans false-flag provocations.

Late January: British government accuses Russia of planning to install a puppet regime in Kyiv.

Early February: US announces more expected Russian false-flag provocations.

January 19: Biden says in a news conference that he thinks Russia will invade and says that the West will answer Russia’s attack.

January 21: Blinken meets with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Blinken again laid out U.S. positions. If Putin had legitimate security concerns, the United States and its allies were ready to talk about them. But once an invasion of Ukraine began, Western sanctions would be fast and merciless, isolating Russia and crippling its economy, and the alliance would provide Ukraine with massive military assistance. If one Russian soldier or missile touched one inch of NATO territory, the United States would defend its allies.

Blinken found Lavrov’s responses strident and unyielding. After an hour and a half of fruitless back-and-forth, it seemed there was little more to say.But as their aides began to file out of the ballroom, Blinken held back and asked the Russian minister to speak with him alone. The two men entered a small, adjacent conference room and shut the door as the U.S. and Russian teams stood uncomfortably together outside.

After again going over the Ukraine situation, Blinken stopped and asked, “Sergei, tell me what it is you’re really trying to do?” Was this all really about the security concerns Russia had raised again and again — about NATO’s “encroachment” toward Russia and a perceived military threat? Or was it about Putin’s almost theological belief that Ukraine was and always had been an integral part of Mother Russia?

Without answering, Lavrov opened the door and walked away, his staff trailing behind.

It’s a picture of Russian refusal to go beyond setting out their demands. No openings for negotiations. It suggests that Putin has laid down an ironclad program that others must follow to remain in the government. The public presence of Russian diplomats and experts continues to be consistent with such a requirement.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

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