Heads: the seven richest major democracies are raising their voices. Also heads: the G7 followed Joe Biden’s lead on Sunday in warning Vladimir Putin of the “massive consequences” of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. But tails: a negotiation is underway or is being sought in any case.
Tails: the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Karen Donfried, will be in Kiev, Moscow and Brussels this week after the American President called on the Atlantic Alliance last week to take Russia’s “security concerns” into account. This cryptic call followed Joe Biden’s meeting with the Russian President, who publicly asked the United States for “legal guarantees” that would rule out any Ukraine’s entry into the Atlantic Alliance in any form.
The Americans cannot and will not give him such guarantees, since they cannot decide alone on behalf of the entire Alliance, let alone renounce a Ukrainian candidacy in place of Ukraine. Formally speaking, Vladimir Putin has set the bar too high but, in substance, he can argue that just as much as Ukraine is free to choose its alliances, he has a duty to defend Russia’s security by opposing an Alliance dominated by the United States to advance to its borders.
The argument is strong because if the Swiss Confederation were to decide, for example, to join an alliance led by China, it is hard to imagine the European Union remaining passive in the face of what would nevertheless be a free and sovereign choice by the Swiss.
Joe Biden is not wrong to wish that the Atlantic Alliance would not ignore Russian concerns. This is only logical and common sense, here but then what?
Well, then we have to tell Mr Putin that we cannot acknowledge what he is saying if he cannot acknowledge that the democracies have not annexed a single square metre of Russian territory while he has annexed Crimea and taken over eastern Ukraine. The Russian President must be told that the western borders of Ukraine and Belarus are the eastern borders of the European Union and that we are therefore justified in worrying about his troop mobilisations and his aggressiveness in the heart of the continent.
You feel surrounded, Mr Putin, but apart from the fact that the largest country in the world is inevitably surrounded solely by its geography, we have no reason to feel comfortable either, because it is on the borders of Ukraine and in Belarus, not on the borders of Russia that a powerful army is showing its muscles.
So let’s say it. If you, Mr Putin, do not want the Atlantic Alliance to be able to extend to your borders, what guarantees of non-aggression of your neighbours, of non-interference in their internal affairs and of withdrawal from the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine and Georgia are you ready to give to these countries and to the European Union beyond them?
You are entitled to request that your security be assured, but so are Ukraine, Georgia, the Belarussians and ourselves, and much more so than you, because the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance respect the national borders of the European continent, whereas you do not and show no intention of doing so.
A negotiation is in the making, Mr Putin. That is good, because it is high time to overcome our historical mistakes and common wrongs, but do not expect us to act as if we were guilty when, in this case, the aggression is not our doing but yours.