Russia. “For Putin, we might as well discuss directly with the United States”

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What signal is Russia sending, with the closure of its diplomatic representation to NATO in Brussels and Moscow?

Igor Delanoë After the numerous expulsions of Russians on mission with NATO, the government decided to repatriate the rest of the staff and to close the information and representation office in Moscow. This is the consequence of a downward spiral and a general deterioration in Euro-Atlantic relations with Russia for years.

The dialogue had already turned out to be completely seized with deep disagreements around Ukraine since 2014, military tensions around the Baltic Sea, with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia at the epicenter of the clashes, also in the Black Sea. Despite this dialogue of the deaf, this representation was an important organ in terms of “deconfliction”. It can help to avoid incidents during maneuvers or operations along the contiguous zones of NATO countries and Russia (Black Seas, Baltic…). Fortunately, military channels exist to maintain this deconfliction, but it will essentially come down to that, bypassing all political dialogue, which will be suspended.

Will the other diplomatic and military discussion channels be impacted by this decision?

Igor Delanoë Certainly, but in a positive way. And that is what the Russians are looking for through this decision. Moscow wants to highlight the bilateral dialogues it maintains with a number of Alliance members. France is an example of this with the 2 + 2 discussion framework which brings together the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs.

After the disastrous visit of the head of EU diplomacy, the Spaniard Josep Borrell, last March in Moscow, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, made statements pointing out the relationship with the European Union and its institutions. He considers that it no longer really needs to be maintained because the dialogue appears to be deadlocked. Moscow prefers to address the European capitals directly bilaterally.

It is the same with NATO, where dialogue is abandoned in favor of relations with States. And the most important remains the one with the United States. The Russians believe that NATO remains an Alliance totally subordinate politically and militarily to Washington. Rather than wasting time discussing within the framework of NATO, you might as well discuss it directly with the leader. This decision is consistent with the more general vision that the Russians have of the Alliance and of a Western Europe under the thumb of the United States and their arsenal of extraterritorial sanctions. The lack of sovereignty of Europeans over Iran illustrates this observation.

In addition to the enlargement to the east of NATO, do the Aukus security agreement in the Pacific and the purchase of nuclear submarines weigh in this new Russian strategy?

Igor Delanoë On the candidatures of Ukraine and Georgia for entry into NATO, there are real Russian tensions. Vladimir Putin made it clear that Kiev’s membership is a red line and that it would be viewed as a hostile and threatening move by the Kremlin. The same goes for Georgia. The Alliance confines itself to the Bucharest declaration of 2008, in which it recognizes that Georgia and Ukraine are destined to join the Alliance one day. It is therefore aspirations for membership that are encouraged. At NATO, there is no question of going back on it, and that remains a subject of tension. Given the context around the Donbass, with the deployment of Russian soldiers, this is a permanent object of concern. On the NATO side, it is estimated that Russia has no right of veto over who adheres to it or not.

On the Aukus, this was seen as a desire on the part of the Americans to build a NATO of the Pacific. This Politique-industrial alliance around Great Britain, Australia and the United States targets China. But some members of the executive, including Nikolai Patrouchev, secretary general of the security council of the Russian Federation, believe that indo-pacifism, the ideological substrate which serves as the cement of this Alliance, is also anti-Russians. Because if we look at twenty or thirty years, they imagine that these nuclear submarines will come to patrol off Kamchatka, where the bases of Russian submarines reside. But this is not shared by all players in Russia.

In the end, is it a three-way game that is taking place in this region of the world: United States, China and Russia?

Igor Delanoë This is a ridge line. If, with its long coasts, Russia presents itself as a power of the Pacific, it also remains rather cautious insofar as this zone is littered with tensions and potential conflicts with numerous disputes between Japan, Vietnam, South Korea. South, Taiwan… All these territorial claims can degenerate into conflict. The region is experiencing strong militarization, with rising budgets everywhere and a restructuring of alliances linked to the Ankus, the new anti-Chinese front. Obviously, all this is scrutinized by Moscow which, since 2019, has participated in the Chinese game of patrols, overflights near airspace, especially Japanese and South Korean. In addition to these operations, Russia nevertheless maintains sustained and constructive diplomatic relations with these two nations.

In fact, in this great geopolitical game in Asia-Pacific, Moscow is increasingly associating itself with Beijing’s positions with fairly sustained military cooperation, China being the main power in the region. It is a question of increasing the cost, for the United States, of the balance of power which it pursues with Russia on the western part. This measured and balanced support with China aims to push the new American administration to negotiate its differences in Europe and to ease the Atlanticist pressure. This is the calculation that seems to emerge in Moscow in the medium and long term.

From this perspective, a form of tacit understanding seems to be developing in the UN Security Council between the two Asian powers. The Russian government believes that the political context is favorable, the United States being in a logic to stop the escalation with them. The meeting in Geneva this summer between Joe Biden and Vladimir Poutine illustrates this. Another would also be scheduled. This strategy of the United States is explained since, for them, the main adversary turns out to be China. Russia is therefore trying to take advantage of and obtain spinoffs from the battle that has started in Asia-Pacific between the two leading powers.

Are the diplomatic expulsions between the United States and Russia underway for several years weighing on this resumption of dialogue?

Igor Delanoë With a view to relaunching a real dialogue between the two countries, it would be necessary to start deploying staff on both sides. In Moscow, the United States embassy has only a hundred people, against more than 1,200 before 2017. The same goes for the Russian side, where the diplomatic question of the UN in New York also arises.

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