U.S. – Russia relations August 2021-

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Will There Be a War Over Ukraine? 13 Putin Watchers Weigh In
Here’s what Biden needs to know about the famously unpredictable Russian president — and Washington’s best next moves.

25-27 January
Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will not open if Russia invades Ukraine, says US
US and German officials signal hardening of position on controversial gas link
US finalizing plans to divert gas to Europe if Russia cuts off supply
Officials working with global suppliers to avoid European gas crisis if flow from Russia is cut as Biden says he would consider personal sanctions against Putin
As fears of an invasion of Ukraine have grown, US officials said on Tuesday that they have been negotiating with global suppliers.
The preparation for bulk gas supplies deliveries is part of a campaign by the US and its European allies to show a united and coherent front to Putin in the hope of deterring him from invading Ukraine. Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider imposing personal sanctions on the Russian president himself.
The US also said it was preparing restrictions on exports to Russia of hi-tech software and hardware made by the US and its allies. Officials said the measures would affect Russian ambitions in the fields of aerospace, defence, lasers and sensitive, maritime technology, artificial intelligence and quantum computers.

24 January
U.S. puts 8,500 troops on alert as Russia tensions ramp up
The move comes as NATO allies deploy ships and aircraft to Eastern Europe.
Earlier Monday, NATO announced that European allies were deploying additional ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe and putting new forces on standby in response to Russia’s continued troop buildup along Ukraine’s border.
Why the partisan Putin split persists
(Politico Nightly) Biden’s administration is facing a problem with a complex array of possible solutions. The sheer scope of his options, militarily and diplomatically, doesn’t lend itself easily to rifle-shot statements of congressional support for specific aspects of his Russia policy.
Biden has made clear he won’t directly bring troops into Ukraine. Rather, his goal is to support and protect neighboring NATO powers.
And just as top Democrats followed Trump’s Syria strikes with clear insistence on a comprehensive plan to follow through, so will Republicans seek a longer-term strategy from Biden — even as they look for potential failings in anything they hear from him.

23 January
Russia and China’s plans for a new world order
For Moscow and Beijing, the Ukraine crisis is part of a struggle to reduce American power and make the world safe for autocrats
(Financial Times) When Vladimir Putin travels to Beijing for the beginning of the Winter Olympics on February 4, the Russian president will meet the leader who has become his most important ally — Xi Jinping of China. In a phone call between Putin and Xi in December, the Chinese leader supported Russia’s demand that Ukraine must never join Nato.

20 January
Biden insists U.S. won’t accept a ‘minor incursion’ by Russia into Ukraine after remarks drew criticism
“I’ve been absolutely clear with President [Vladimir] Putin. He has no misunderstanding: Any, any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” Biden told reporters Thursday at the start of a White House event on infrastructure.Such an invasion would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response,” Biden added, noting that those consequences have been “laid out very clearly for President Putin.”
“Let there be no doubt at all: If Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price,” Biden said.
In the second news conference of his presidency Wednesday, Biden said he expected Russia to take some sort of action to “move in” and invade Ukraine and that the U.S. response “depends on what it does.”
Russia and the U.S. are playing chicken over Ukraine
Diplomacy can still prevent a full-scale war, but more escalation is likely.

As U.S. and Russia Prepare to Talk, Blinken Pushes Back on Kremlin Demand
(NYT) The U.S. secretary of state met with Ukraine’s president and said he had no plans to meet Russia’s insistence on a written diplomatic proposal on its demands for European security.
Two days before a meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Wednesday appeared to reject one of Moscow’s central requests, saying he would not provide his counterpart with the written response to Russia’s demands on Eastern European security that the Kremlin says it expects.
That stance could anger Russia ahead of Mr. Blinken’s planned sit-down in Geneva with Sergey V. Lavrov that may be one of the last chances for a diplomatic path to averting what U.S. officials fear is an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine.

10 January
U.S., Russia still poles apart after Ukraine talks in Geneva
Session begins a flurry of diplomatic talks this week, with Russian troops amassed near Ukraine border
(Reuters via CBC) Russia and the United States gave no sign that they had narrowed their differences on Ukraine and wider European security in talks in Geneva on Monday, as Moscow repeated demands that Washington says it cannot accept.
Russia has massed troops near Ukraine’s border while demanding that the U.S.-led NATO alliance rule out admitting the former Soviet state or expanding further into what Moscow sees as its backyard.
“Unfortunately, we have a great disparity in our principled approaches to this. The U.S. and Russia in some ways have opposite views on what needs to be done,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters.
Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said: “We were firm … in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States.”
Washington and Kyiv say the 100,000 Russian troops moved to striking distance could be preparing a new invasion eight years after Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
Russia denies any such plans and says it is responding to what it calls aggressive behaviour from NATO and Ukraine, which has tilted toward the West and aspires to join the alliance.

4 January
EU’s top diplomat visits Ukraine frontline in show of solidarity
Josep Borrell’s trip comes as west steps up diplomatic efforts in response to Russian troop buildup on border
(The Guardian) In an attempt to defuse tensions, Russian and US officials are to hold talks on 10 January in Geneva, where the US president, Joe Biden, and Putin met last year. Two days later, western countries will meet Russia in the NATO-Russia Council. Talks will continue on 13 January through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a body that includes the US, its NATO allies, Russia and former Soviet states.
3 January
Secretary Blinken’s Call with the Bucharest Nine
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with the Bucharest Nine (B9) group of eastern flank NATO Allies. The Secretary and Foreign Ministers discussed Russia’s destabilizing military buildup along Ukraine’s border; the need for a united, ready, and resolute NATO stance for the collective defense of Allies; and transatlantic cooperation on issues of shared concern. The Secretary stressed the U.S. commitment to continued close consultation and coordination with all of our Transatlantic Allies and partners as we work toward de-escalation through deterrence, defense, and dialogue. They also highlighted their solidarity with Lithuania in the face of escalating political pressure and economic coercion by the People’s Republic of China. The Secretary underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to Transatlantic security and to NATO’s Article 5.


28-30 December
Putin Warns Biden of ‘Complete Rupture’ of U.S.-Russia Relationship Over Ukraine
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke with President Biden for 50 minutes about the escalating crisis with Ukraine, but his intentions remained unclear.
Senior officials to lead Russia-U.S. security talks in Geneva on Jan. 10
(Reuters) – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will lead bilateral security talks in Geneva on Jan. 10, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, amid tensions over Ukraine.
Russia is set to hold talks with NATO in Brussels on Jan. 12, before a broader meeting on Jan. 13 involving the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states.
President Vladimir V. Putin warned President Biden on Thursday that any economic sanctions imposed on Russia if it moves to take new military action against Ukraine could result in a “complete rupture” of relations between the two nuclear superpowers, a Russian official told reporters on Thursday evening.
The exchange came during a 50-minute phone call that Mr. Putin requested, and which both sides described as businesslike. Yet it ended without clarity about Mr. Putin’s intentions. He has massed 100,000 or so troops on the border with Ukraine, and issued demands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States to pull back their forces in the region, but apparently has not decided whether to order an invasion.
What Putin Really Wants in Ukraine
Russia Seeks to Stop NATO’s Expansion, Not to Annex More Territory
By Dmitri Trenin
(Foreign Affairs) As 2021 came to a close, Russia presented the United States with a list of demands that it said were necessary to stave off the possibility of a large-scale military conflict in Ukraine. In a draft treaty delivered to a U.S. diplomat in Moscow, the Russian government asked for a formal halt to NATO’s eastern enlargement, a permanent freeze on further expansion of the alliance’s military infrastructure (such as bases and weapons systems) in the former Soviet territory, an end to Western military assistance to Ukraine, and a ban on intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
These concerns were familiar to Western policymakers, who for years have responded by arguing that Moscow does not have a veto over NATO’s decisions and that it has no grounds to demand that the West stop sending weapons to Ukraine. Until recently, Moscow grudgingly acceded to those terms. Now, however, it appears determined to follow through with countermeasures if it doesn’t get its way. That determination was reflected in how it presented the proposed treaty with the United States and a separate agreement with NATO. The tone of both missives was sharp.
… Moscow’s demands are probably an opening bid, not an ultimatum. For all its insistence on a formal treaty with the United States, the Russian government no doubt understands that thanks to polarization and gridlock, ratification of any treaty in the U.S. Senate will be all but impossible. An executive agreement—essentially an accord between two governments which does not have to be ratified and thus does not have the status of a law—may therefore be a more realistic alternative. It is also likely that under such an agreement, Russia would assume reciprocal commitments addressing some U.S. concerns so as to create what it calls a “balance of interest.”

7-9 December
Will Putin Get What He Wants on Ukraine?
For now, Biden is the leader who prevented a war, but that’s not to say that the summit will be followed by a rapid de-escalation: not until Moscow sees new steps being taken by Washington on Ukraine. First and foremost, that means progress on implementing the Minsk agreements.
By Alexander Baunov
(Carnegie Moscow Center) At this week’s virtual summit on Ukraine with U.S. President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aim was to transfer responsibility for implementing the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the Ukraine conflict from the Europeans and Ukrainians to the United States. To encourage Biden to accept this responsibility, Russia has been staging military drills close to Ukraine’s borders, with enough troops massing there to launch an offensive. As Putin seeks a final formula for the configuration of the post-Soviet space, the signal is clear: if the Minsk agreements aren’t being implemented, the alternative is military force.
Biden warns Putin not to further invade Ukraine, threatens ‘strong economic and other’ consequences
(WaPo) President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in a video call not to mount a new invasion of Ukraine and laid out the economic and security costs Russia would face if the Kremlin chooses to go down that path, as the White House attempts to forestall a renewed war in Europe.
Biden also offered a diplomatic route to end the war scare that has arisen since the Kremlin, for the second time this year, massed troops and materiel near the border with Ukraine, raising fears of an offensive far larger and more deadly than the invasion eight years ago.
The two leaders came out of the virtual meeting and tasked their teams to engage in what the Kremlin called “substantive consultations” on sensitive European security issues, including Russia’s complaints that NATO is encroaching on its borders and conducting threatening activities on Ukrainian territory. In the run-up to the call, Russia had proposed starting talks on those issues.

24 December
Biden Administration Aligns With Russia to Support the Minsk ‘Agreements’ on Ukraine
(Ukrainian Weekly) Russia imposed the Minsk “agreements” on Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 through military force. Ukraine’s government and civil society regard the terms of those documents as inimical to the national interests. They spent these seven years resisting, evading, and asking to change those terms.
Throughout this time, Russia has repeatedly said in frustration that only Ukraine’s Western “curators” (patrons), first and foremost the United States, can deliver Ukrainian compliance with the Minsk “agreements.” Moscow offered all along to accept Washington in any negotiating format if Washington understood its role to be that of pressing Ukraine to comply. The Barack Obama administration tried to do this as part of its Russia Reset, but it ran out of time. The Joseph Biden administration, led by some Obama administration veterans, has embarked on another attempt, again subordinating its policy toward Ukraine to its policy toward Russia. While the Obama administration had smugly underestimated Russia, the Biden administration believes that it needs Russia’s cooperation on a wide range of global and regional challenges to the United States. Its quest for Russian “help” is forcing the administration into tradeoffs.
The Biden administration, therefore, seems prepared to “park” Ukraine in a gray zone between the institutional West and Russia.
Last week, the White House and the Kremlin agreed to start talks about a possible overall reconfiguration of security arrangements in Europe’s East, with Ukraine as the central object of negotiations. Russian threats of military action against Ukraine helped precipitate President Biden’s consent. Washington notified Kyiv about this decision again post factum (see EDM, December 8, 9), notwithstanding the recently signed strategic partnership. The White House has for a whole year declined to even nominate an ambassador to Ukraine (while the rumored possible candidates lack the necessary gravitas). The US-Ukraine strategic partnership rests on a bipartisan Congressional majority and the Pentagon at this point. Russia, however, proposes to bar not only NATO membership but also bilateral military assistance for Ukraine in the negotiations that were just announced.

4 December
Biden and Putin set to talk about Ukraine in video call on Tuesday
(Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a video call on Tuesday, with the two leaders set to discuss the tense situation in Ukraine.

2 December
Top U.S., Russian diplomats trade blame in talks over Ukraine
(WaPo) Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Moscow on Thursday to abandon plans for a potential invasion of Ukraine, calling for a peaceful resolution to an intensifying showdown between Russia and the West.
Blinken’s warning in talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Moscow could face dire consequences over Ukraine, and Lavrov’s assertion in turn that NATO is threatening Russian security, underscored the obstacles to defusing the brewing crisis.
Their meeting on the margins of a European cooperation conference, Blinken’s second bilateral encounter with the Russian diplomat since becoming secretary of state, comes as the Biden administration threatens “high-impact” economic retaliation if Russia launches an offensive against Ukraine.
U.S., Russian Military Chiefs Speak On The Phone Amid Heightened Tensions Over Ukraine
(RadioFreeEurope) The United States’ and Russia’s top military officers spoke over the phone on November 23, amid heightened Western concerns over Russian military moves near the Ukrainian border.
Kyiv and its Western backers have raised alarm bells in recent days over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine, whose military intelligence chief claimed on November 21 that Russia has amassed 92,000 troops near its borders and was readying an attack in early February.
The Kremlin has called such allegations “groundless.”

10 November
Despite Moscow’s Brinkmanship, U.S. and Russia Explore Deeper Relations
The Biden administration aims to advance priorities like strategic stability, while keeping a close eye on Russia’s actions.
By Donald N. Jensen, Ph.D.
(U.S. Institute of Peace) Although at odds on a host of key geostrategic issues, Washington and Moscow have this year quietly sought to stabilize the tension-laden bilateral relationship. A June summit between Presidents Biden and Putin in Geneva has been followed by several high-level engagements in recent months between U.S. and Russian officials, including CIA Director William Burns’ early November trip to Moscow. For the Biden administration, this engagement allows it to explore areas of accord while closely watching Moscow and its efforts to undermine U.S. interests. For Putin, the talks demonstrate that Russia is the global power he claims it is.

31 October (Update 3 November)
Rivals on World Stage, Russia and U.S. Quietly Seek Areas of Accord
There have been a series of beneath-the-surface meetings between the two countries as the Biden administration applies a more sober approach to relations with the Kremlin
(NYT) The summit between Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin in June in Geneva touched off a series of contacts between the two countries, including three trips to Moscow by senior Biden administration officials since July, and more meetings with Russian officials on neutral ground in Finland and Switzerland.
There is a serious conversation underway on arms control, the deepest in years. The White House’s top adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, Anne Neuberger, has engaged in a series of quiet, virtual meetings with her Kremlin counterpart. Several weeks ago — after an extensive debate inside the American intelligence community over how much to reveal — the United States turned over the names and other details of a few hackers actively launching attacks on America.
… Officials in both countries say the flurry of talks has so far yielded little of substance but helps to prevent Russian-American tensions from spiraling out of control.

27 September
Fiona Hill: The Kremlin’s Strange Victory
How Putin Exploits American Dysfunction and Fuels American Decline
(Foreign Affairs November/December) … The current U.S.-Russian relationship no longer mirrors the Cold War challenge, even if some geopolitical contours and antagonisms persist. The old U.S. foreign policy approach of balancing deterrence with limited engagement is ill suited to the present task of dealing with Putin’s insecurities. …
The primary problem for the Biden administration in dealing with Russia is rooted in the domestic politics of the United States and Russia rather than their foreign policies. The two countries have been heading in the same political direction for some of the same reasons over the last several years. They have similar political susceptibilities. The United States will never change Putin and his threat perceptions, because they are deeply personal. Americans will have to change themselves to blunt the effects of Russian political interference campaigns for the foreseeable future. Achieving that goal will require Biden and his team to integrate their approach to Russia with their efforts to shore up American democracy, tackle inequality and racism, and lead the country out of a period of intense division.

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