Are you paying attention? Russia demands cancellation of the Global Rules-Based Order

Russia continues to signal NATO about its security ‘red lines’, while the US announces that it is ready to negotiate terms with Russia about the latters’ concerns, any backing down from the actual policy seems like heresy to the States.

Everyone understands everything perfectly, the moment of truth is coming in relations between Russia and NATO. You cannot constantly hit Russia’s weak spots … The conversation must be serious … otherwise, the alternative is military-technical and military responses from Russia”, the head of Russia’s delegation to the arms control negotiations in Vienna said on Monday.

He was referring to two documents that were published by Russia on 17 December. The two documents describe in detail what Washington must do to avoid the inevitable, and looming clash over NATO’s eastward expansion up to, and onto, Russia’s borders.  Essentially, they demand that NATO forces must withdraw to where they were in 1997 (i.e. bound within Germany’s borders). The documents also address other aspects of de-escalation, such as removing all US nuclear weapons from foreign territory, and confining US forces to waters and airspace from which they cannot threaten the territory of Russia.

We are talking here not of some minor shuffling to-and-fro and readjustment of force deployments. It is a  framework for geo-political revolution, no less. In essence, the demand is for the ‘cancelling’ of America’s rules-based, global order (shaped around US interests and values).

Russia is telling America that the UN Security Council is, and must henceforth be, the only source of international laws. Russia demands not just the strategic roll-back of the US in Europe, but also, that all future security agreements be drafted into legally binding treaties – and for Washington to cease its unilateral regime-change, colour revolution programmes.

Though it is couched in the arcane language of a draft treaty, the thrust of it is closer to that of an ultimatum.  It is very definitely not intended as some abstract discussion paper to be pored over in coming years. The call is for an immediate US reaction.

In some ways, it would seem the draft treaty has been launched into the public arena, not so much in the expectation of receiving an early substantive response from Washington, but rather, to underline that Russia deliberately is burning bridges, in order to call attention to the gravity of the situation: ‘We said it once: It was not heard’.  So, we are saying it in a format that makes it clear that Moscow will not again back down from this strategic demand.  ‘Are you paying attention?’ is the subtext. Because if not, we shall move to the vocabulary of military and military-technical options.

This was made clear when Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, urged Washington to give an immediate response to the proposals for security guarantees – against an incrementally deteriorating geopolitical context: “I think that there will be no refusal [from the US] as such, but there will be an attempt to add all sorts of wishes, conditions, all sorts of additional ideas just to throw the ball over to our side”, he said.

And that, predictably enough, is precisely the initial US response: The US “will not compromise” on NATO expansion, the White House reiterated on Friday. “We have seen the Russian proposals. We are discussing them with our European allies and partners”.

Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser, said on the same day that whilst the Russians may have a list of security concerns, so did the US and its European allies – and that Washington was willing to negotiate on that basis. “We’ve had a dialogue with Russia on European security issues for the last 20 years”, Mr. Sullivan told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations. “We had it with the Soviet Union for decades before that”.

That process “has sometimes produced progress, sometimes produced deadlock”, Sullivan said, noting that the United States planned “to put on the table our concerns with Russian activities that we believe harm our interests and values”. “It’s very difficult to see agreements getting consummated,” he added, “if we’re continuing to see an escalatory cycle”.

‘Putting on the table’ Sullivan’s concerns about activities that are inconsistent with US interests and values has dominated US exchanges with Russia, China, and – via intermediaries – Iran throughout this Administration’s term in office. It has not been productive. Nothing has been “consummated”. It has been accompanied only by rising tensions.

Fyodor Lukyanov, considered close to the Kremlin’s worldview and known to advise senior officials, believes the West is unlikely to accept Russia’s demands, as doing so would be politically impossible. George Friedman, of CIA-linked former Stratfor lineage, strongly concurs: There are clauses that guarantee the United States will reject the document.

Russia’s demands are not new. They reflect a stance that Russia has been voicing for years.  So, the question is: Why would a state launch a draft in the tough terms of an ultimatum, other than to serve as a deliberate ‘wake up’ call, before matters slide from the diplomatic sphere – to the military.

There is little sign that either the US or Europe are breaking off from their long strategic siesta. The West, however, is so taken with meme-politics that they almost certainly will think the proposals to be little more than a new Russian narrative, to be moved as quickly as possible into the long grass of endless discussion, involving not just NATO partners, but the EU too.

From the US and NATO’s perspective, even to contemplate Russia setting its own security red lines, is heresy – as NATO’s Secretary-General affirmed (on the day before Russia published the two documents): “NATO stands with Ukraine. All Allies support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we do not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea … NATO will continue to give you [President Zelensky] practical support … The message today, to Russia is that it is for Ukraine as a sovereign nation to decide its own path; and for the 30 NATO Allies to decide when Ukraine is ready to become a member. What is important now is that we focus on reforms for Ukraine to meet NATO standards”.

If this becomes the US and final response, we will see more steps meant to demonstrate Russia’s determination to change the status quo, no matter what the West says about it. In fresh comments, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko has stressed that the proposals carry urgency, as tensions are at a tipping point. The Minister added that if Moscow gets rebuffed or ignored in these attempts to hammer out security guarantees, Russia will be forced to enact ‘counter-threats’ of its own.

So, the question now, is what is it that Russia is going to do, when the US goes down the path of: ‘we have been talking to Russia for simply decades, on such matters’ — i.e. what’s beef; what’s the rush?

Well, the West was astonished when suddenly the Russian foot stamped down in Syria, and Washington’s overthrow of the Syrian government was blocked by Russian military force. Today’s message is: Either you ‘Finlandise’ Ukraine, or Russia will do it for you.

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