U.S. and Russia Want to Talk, But Still See 'Unacceptable' Positions on Ukraine

The United States and Russia have both expressed a desire for dialogue to settle a crisis on the border with Ukraine, but both sides still view some of the other's positions as inadmissible, creating an impasse and concerns of further escalation.

As tensions continued to mount over Ukraine's seven-year war against Moscow-aligned separatists in the east, the Russian Foreign Ministry released two draft treaties on Friday to serve as the basis of discussions with the U.S. and its NATO alliance regarding their role in Ukraine. The proposals, which consisted of eight articles and nine articles, respectively, were shared with Newsweek and, at their core, sought to ban Western military presence and activities in the former Soviet sphere of influence that now borders the Russian Federation.

Speaking to reporters, a senior Biden administration official confirmed that U.S. officials "received some concrete proposals from the Russians" and "have shared those with our allies." But he said some demands were dead on arrival.

"We are prepared to discuss them," the senior administration official said. "That said, there are some things in those documents that the Russians know will be unacceptable, and they know that. But there are other things that we are prepared to work with and that merit some discussion. That said, we will do this with our allies and partners. Nothing about European security without Europeans in the room."

Asked about which parts specifically had been dismissed, the senior administration official declined to go into specifics but offered a broad view of the U.S. reaction.

"I'm not going to negotiate it here in public, but I will say a couple of foundational things here, which you'll see reflected also in the North Atlantic Council statements, in the EU statements, in the statements of our individual allies," the senior administration official said. "Any dialogue with Russia has got to proceed on the basis of reciprocity. We and our allies have plenty of concerns about Russia's dangerous and threatening behavior, and those will have to be raised in any conversation that we have."

But these negotiations or discussions, the senior administration official argued, "will have to be based on the core principles and foundational documents of European security and be done together with the Europeans."

"We will not compromise on key principles on which European security is built, including, as the president has said repeatedly and as he said directly to President [Vladimir] Putin, that all countries have the right to decide their own future and their own foreign policy free from outside interference," the senior administration official added. "And that goes for Ukraine and it also goes for NATO allies and the alliance itself with regard to how it provides a collective defense for its members."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also confirmed to reporters that U.S. officials "have seen the Russian proposals" and were "discussing them with our European allies and partners."

She also referenced a NATO statement published yesterday, saying it "underscored that any dialogue with Russia would have to proceed on the basis of reciprocity; address NATO's concerns about Russia's continued dangerous and threatening behavior; be based on the core principles and foundational documents of European security; and take place in consultation with NATO's European partners."

Ukraine, soldier, training, Germany
Russia has protested Ukraine's growing security ties to the NATO alliance as tensions rise on the border between the two rivals. Above, a Ukrainian 92nd Mechanized Brigade soldier lays down suppressive fire as his teammates advance on the enemy during a simulated attack as part of the U.S.-led Combined Resolve XVI at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, on Dec. 10, 2021. Sergeant Tommie Berry/196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/U.S. Army

The prospective Russia-U.S. treaty begins by recalling the principles enshrined in the founding Charter of the United Nations, including the "inadmissibility of the threat or use of force" and "strict compliance with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs."

It also calls on Washington and Moscow to develop better mechanisms "to settle emerging issues and disputes through a constructive dialogue on the basis of mutual respect for and recognition of each other's security interests and concerns, as well as to elaborate adequate responses to security challenges and threats," and seeks "to avoid any military confrontation and armed conflict between the Parties," which it says "could result in the use of nuclear weapons that would have far-reaching consequences."

Eight articles follow:

Article 1

The Parties shall cooperate on the basis of principles of indivisible, equal and undiminished security and to these ends:

shall not undertake actions nor participate in or support activities that affect the security of the other Party;

shall not implement security measures adopted by each Party individually or in the framework of an international organization, military alliance or coalition that could undermine core security interests of the other Party.

Article 2

The Parties shall seek to ensure that all international organizations, military alliances and coalitions in which at least one of the Parties is taking part adhere to the principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations.

Article 3

The Parties shall not use the territories of other States with a view to preparing or carrying out an armed attack against the other Party or other actions affecting core security interests of the other Party.

Article 4

The United States of America shall undertake to prevent further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and deny accession to the Alliance to the States of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The United States of America shall not establish military bases in the territory of the States of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, use their infrastructure for any military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.

Article 5

The Parties shall refrain from deploying their armed forces and armaments, including in the framework of international organizations, military alliances or coalitions, in the areas where such deployment could be perceived by the other Party as a threat to its national security, with the exception of such deployment within the national territories of the Parties.

The Parties shall refrain from flying heavy bombers equipped for nuclear or non-nuclear armaments or deploying surface warships of any type, including in the framework of international organizations, military alliances or coalitions, in the areas outside national airspace and national territorial waters respectively, from where they can attack targets in the territory of the other Party.

The Parties shall maintain dialogue and cooperate to improve mechanisms to prevent dangerous military activities on and over the high seas, including agreeing on the maximum approach distance between warships and aircraft.

Article 6

The Parties shall undertake not to deploy ground-launched intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles outside their national territories, as well as in the areas of their national territories, from which such weapons can attack targets in the national territory of the other Party.

Article 7

The Parties shall refrain from deploying nuclear weapons outside their national territories and return such weapons already deployed outside their national territories at the time of the entry into force of the Treaty to their national territories. The Parties shall eliminate all existing infrastructure for deployment of nuclear weapons outside their national territories.

The Parties shall not train military and civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons. The Parties shall not conduct exercises or training for general-purpose forces, that include scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons.

Article 8

The Treaty shall enter into force from the date of receipt of the last written notification on the completion by the Parties of their domestic procedures necessary for its entry into force.

US, Joe, Biden, Russia, Vladimir, Putin, summit
The U.S. and Russia have shown a desire for dialogue to settle the Ukraine border crisis, but concerns of further escalation linger. Above, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden via video call in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Dec. 7, 2021. MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

In a wide-ranging interview with Newsweek on Friday, Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov also referenced the proposal, which he said was a direct follow-up to the virtual summit held by Biden and Putin last week and was the subject of Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov's more recent phone call with national security adviser Jake Sullivan and meeting Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried in Moscow.

He said the decision to publish the proposal was an effort "to make our work on security arrangements transparent for the public."

Antonov also defended his country's positions amid U.S. concerns toward a heightened Russian military presence near Ukraine's eastern border. As of Friday, Pentagon press secertary John Kirby said U.S. officials "haven't seen any significant changes in the posture of Russian forces arrayed around the Ukrainian border" and "they are still there in large number," but Antonov disputed this framing.

"The State Department and Pentagon daily warnings on Russia's buildup of its military presence near the border of Ukraine are nothing but propaganda," Antonov said. "I'd like to remind that Russia has every right to freely move troops on its territory and conduct training activities. We are not threatening anyone. The rhetoric of the Western press and U.S. dignitaries about Moscow's aggressive plans is absolutely unfounded."

He argued that "the only way to stability in the Donbas region is implementation of the Minsk agreements," a set of deals written up by Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe with mediation by France and Germany as part of what's known as the Normandy format.

The talks have so far failed to resolve the ongoing conflict, which erupted shortly after a 2014 uprising brought a pro-West government to power in Kyiv. Russia responded by moving to annex the Crimean Peninsula in an internationally disputed move that Moscow argued was necessary to safeguard the majority-Russian population living there, as well as the security of Russia's Black Sea Fleet headquarters, also located on the peninsula.

With diplomacy at a standstill, Antonov said it was up to Washington "to exert pressure on Kiev to fulfill its obligations under the document."

"We want Washington to send a clear signal to Ukraine about the inadmissibility of revising the Minsk accords, which are the uncontested basis for resolving the situation," Antonov said. "The U.S. has the resources to stimulate [Ukrainian President Volodomyr] Zelensky to implement the Minsk agreements, which were approved by the UNSC Resolution 2202 and are legally binding."

"By the way, many U.S. experts have started to put it clear: Kiev openly sabotages the agreements," he continued, adding that the Ukraine "refrains from engaging in a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk."

Ukraine has been joined by its Western partners in accusing Russia of directly backing the rebels of the two self-declared republics in Donbas, and has called for further assistance in deterring a potential Russian intervention, something Moscow denies. Zelensky has also urged direct dialogue with Putin.

But the Russian leader has made known his desire for a broader agreement that he argued would achieve lasting stability in a region plagued by tensions with deep historical roots.

Citing Putin's conversation with Biden, Antonov emphasized a treaty was necessary to establish a peace that was satisfactory for Moscow's own national security. And he said it was the status quo that was "unacceptable" to Russia.

"For Russia, the ongoing militarization of Ukraine by NATO, the presence of Western troops on its territory and hypothetical membership of this country in the alliance are unacceptable," Antonov said. "Such steps are beyond the red lines of our national interests. A legally binding agreement that includes the U.S. and its European allies is required to prevent expanding NATO borders to the east and deployment of weapons on Russia's western borders."

Russia, Western, Military, District, exercise
An engineering unit of the Russia's Western Military District participates in an exercise in this photo published Dec. 16, 2021. A military buildup in the district that borders Ukraine has prompted Western and Ukrainian concerns. Russian Ministry of Defense