Russia has been conducting negotiations for two weeks with representatives from the US, NATO and the OSCE. In Geneva the head of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov has been meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, playing a central role at the international negotiating table, has been articulating vociferously his own claims against the West.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov move to their seats before their meeting, in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

In December 2021, even before the start of the series of negotiations Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov expressed his “concerns” that Russia’s proposals on so-called security guarantees might end up “bogged down” in “endless discussions that the West is famous for and knows how to do”. At the same time, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that Russia was not prepared to agree to any compromises, that the Americans should be the ones finding compromises, as Russia already had set out its position clearly.

However, it goes without saying that this is not a “position”. This is an ultimatum delivered by Putin to the USA and NATO. And this resembles more the demands of a terrorist who has taken a hostage. In other words, the United States is the intended recipient of the demands. However, if these demands are not met, then the citizens of a completely different country will suffer – Ukraine (and Russia as well, naturally).

NATO’s response was immediate: “…it is up to Ukraine and 30 allies to decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO. [Russia] has no veto”, declared NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the results of the negotiations. He added that the US-led defence pact was ready for a “new armed conflict in Europe.” Such a response was only to be expected: whenever talk turns to ultimatums, nobody steps back. If ultimatums are issued, there is no place for diplomacy, and Russia’s officials made it clear that they might abandon diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis around Ukraine.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of Russia’s ultimatums that NATO never admit Ukraine and Georgia to the North American alliance, Finland and Sweden, countries which maintained neutrality even during the Cold War, declared their intentions to join NATO. It transpires that Russia’s threat against Ukraine not only failed to make NATO capitulate, but even had the diametrically opposite effect. And these are not simply words: In Sweden back in December 2020 a parliamentary majority advocating NATO membership was formed, even though the ruling social democrats were at the time opposed to this step. And at the start of 2022, several days after Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs threatened “serious military and political consequences” if Sweden or Finland were to join the alliance, Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö rebuffed the attempted intimidation and declared: “Finland’s room to manoeuvre and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide. According to one Finnish official:  “There’s an increasing understanding that even though Ukraine may be geographically hundreds of miles away from Finland, Europe is one theatre.” This is the direct result of the negotiations conducted as an ultimatum. 

Now Russia’s next step depends only on President Vladimir Putin. For the time being, there is no such “step”. However, we have been witnessing an ostentatious display of preparations everywhere. According to reports in the mass media, Russia’s Ministry of Defence has started  redeploying forces from the Eastern Military District located more than 6,000 kilometres from Ukraine to the west of the country. Large-scale manoeuvres are being prepared in January-February in Belarus. All this is happening in addition to the military units already deployed along virtually the entire Russian-Ukrainian land border – estimated from 100,000 to 175,000 soldiers. According to Western mass media, Russia is planning to evacuate its diplomatic staff from Kyiv and Lviv. Reports have been released on the movement of diversionary specialist forces from Russia to Ukraine and anticipated acts of provocation on Russian territory which might serve as the pretext for a sudden strike or invasion. Cyber attacks on Ukraine’s state institutions are on the increase. The likelihood of a Russian-Ukrainian war is increasing.




Back in the 1980s the most diverse high-ranking Western diplomats promised the Soviet leadership that NATO’s expansion to the east would stop on the border of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. When confronted by this view today, politicians in the West tend to respond that as nobody had made any written promises to the Soviet leader at the time Mikhail Gorbachev, and this had not been spelled out anywhere in the texts of agreements, formally there were no impediments to NATO’s expansion. At the same time, however, a number of American researchers contest this view, citing the non-expansion guarantees still in effect in 1990.

It is important to understand here that Gorbachev conducted the negotiations with Western leaders, proceeding from the assumption that the Soviet Union would become part of the future European security architecture, and if not an ally, then a partner of the United States and the West as a whole. Objectively, the main goal of the USSR Secretary General was the creation  of a “Common European Home” based on his understanding of this concept. 

Helmut Kohl; Giulio Andreotti; Francois Mitterrand; Toshiki Kaifu; John Major; George H. W. Bush; Ruud Lubbers; Brian Mulroney; Mikhail S. Gorbachev; Jacques Delors. G7 Summit in London. July 17, 1991 // Photo by Diana Walker/Getty Images

In1989 the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher already cited the need for systemic disarmament in Europe and proactively lobbied the signing of conventional and nuclear arms treaties in the European continent. Incidentally, Genscher was the first person to declare the need to take account of the interests of the USSR and provide guarantees that NATO would not expand eastwards.

It is notable that in the 1990s NATO’s expansion eastwards was not approved by a number of major American politicians. In an open letter to US President Bill Clinton in June 1997, the patriarchs of American politics Robert McNamara, Jack Matlock, Paul Nitze and others called the expansion of the alliance a “policy error of historic proportions.”

By contrast, such political heavyweights as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and William Odom held that the experiment building a democratic society in Russia was far from over and that even after losing an empire, Russia had not given up on its imperial ambitions. Consequently NATO’s expansion eastwards offered a certain form of insurance against Russia’s unpredictable actions.

Today there are documental evidences to back the idea that Great Britain, the USA and France tried to slow down Germany’s unification, if not prevent it, and even to preserve the Warsaw Pact.

As a whole Russia’s integration in the global security system after 70 years of confrontation was a complex and contradictory process.




In 1990s all international conflicts appeared to be coming to an end one after another: let us recall the statements of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin that Russia had no enemies, the Oslo Accords promising peace in the Middle East, the reforms implemented by Frederik William de Klerk in South Africa and the formal establishment of the European Union. And this is despite the fact that throughout this period former Soviet republics and countries in Eastern Europe had grounds for concern: first of all, there was almost a coup d’état in Russia in 1993, then populist nationalists from the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) won the parliamentary elections to the State Duma, followed by the appearance of General Ledebev perceived by Russia’s neighbours as a potential threat.

In 1997 the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation was signed. This document proceeded from the premise that Russia and Europe had common goals — peace, development, prosperity and democracy: “The member States of NATO reiterate that they have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, nor any need to change any aspect of NATO’s nuclear posture or nuclear policy — and do not foresee any future need to do so. This subsumes the fact that NATO has decided that it has no intention, no plan, and no reason to establish nuclear weapon storage sites on the territory of those members, whether through the construction of new nuclear storage facilities or the adaptation of old nuclear storage facilities.”

It is worth noting here that NATO did not admit any new members after 1982 and right up until 1999, in other words, until Putin effectively came to power in Russia. Czechia, Hungary and Poland joined the alliance in 1999. NATO’s subsequent expansion already occurred once Putin took over. Moreover Putin could have made sure that NATO abandon the idea of expansion, all the more so as he had a strong hand: for example, the administration of George W. Bush needed Russia’s assistance for its operations in Afghanistan. However, Russia’s President did not seek revisions to the 1997 act, as he was unable to even contemplate that post-Soviet states might start cooperating with NATO (incidentally, today he is not paying due regard to China’s expansion in Central Asia or Turkey’s position and plans, in particular, the latter’s role in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan). Consequently, there are no grounds for asserting that NATO’s perfidious offensive eastwards is the result of short-sightedness displayed by Gorbachev or Yeltsin. The North Atlantic Alliance expanded when Putin was in power and its expansion could have been prevented through various diplomatic routes. 

All the more so given that today, as the Russian academic Alexey Arbatov explains, NATO’s 30 member states dispose of far less armed forces and tactical and nuclear weapons than the 16 countries of the alliance at the end of the Cold War. However, instead of painstaking and meticulous political and diplomatic work aimed at preserving the neutrality of such countries as Ukraine or Georgia when it comes to NATO, Russia is instead demanding some kind of guarantees from the West through threats and ultimatums.




Russian attempts to interfere in Ukraine’s internal affairs during the country’s 2004 Presidential elections and the subsequent war with Georgia in 2008 provoked Ukraine and Georgia to apply for admission to NATO. Incidentally, neither country has made significant process in this vein in the 12 years since.

That is why from a rational perspective the key grounds for Russia’s concern should concern the destruction of the international security system established in the 20th century. For some reason, however, the Russian regime made a significant contribution to this process, participating in particular in the destruction of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, talking tough and claiming in a show of bravado that the treaty had run its course and was not beneficial to Russia (see How to avoid going to «heaven», November 2021).

A gaping hole has formed in our country’s security — this is not some subjective view, but rather objective reality. Whereas three years ago Putin showed cartoons about missiles, claiming that hypersonic weapons and nuclear Doomsday missiles would guarantee the country’s security and order, it would now appear that everything depends on NATO, and not on our country. Over the past four years America has made perceptible progress in creating weapons similar to the ones demonstrated by Putin and is already testing hypersonic missiles. This is nothing other than an arms race started by Putin’s Russia. We have already lost one such race, and our country subsequently collapsed. Do we want to repeat this experience?

The configuration of a new security system is a major task requiring respective political and political skills. The current Russian regime has neither. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been transformed from an instrument for diplomacy and the establishment of inter-state relations into a propaganda tool. The only move from the negotiating position held by Russia at present is to shift the blame for their collapse onto the West. Moreover this is only being done for internal propaganda purposes. Meanwhile, it is impossible to take a step here that guarantees actual security. However, these are facts, logic and common sense. Naturally, the Kremlin propaganda being disseminated over the past few months on all available information channels turns all these facts inside out and mocks common sense. The propaganda-based underlying premises for preparing for war have been created:

The Kremlin doesn’t care that these messages contradict each other. Indeed most people barraged by the endless flow of paragraph fail to notice these contradictions: they are too overcome by emotions and too intimidated by propaganda constantly ranting about “warmongers” from the West. Meanwhile, other members of society are insufficiently informed and follow events only intermittently.

Anti-Western propaganda on the Russian State TV channel

It should also be noted here that when it comes to confrontation with the West and politics about Ukraine, the so-called opposition parties in Russia’s parliaments stand right behind Putin. These are the very same parties backed in the “smart voting” campaign at the parliamentary elections last year by a significant proportion of the so-called liberal intelligentsia. As a result, the regime has the impression that liberal democratic public opinion in Russia is no obstacle to an attack on Ukraine. And now the Communists, the supporters of Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Zakhar Prilepin are putting the cart before the horse, paving the way to war. 

However, perhaps the most serious issue today concerns the inability of the Russian authorities in their current state to keep the situation under control. On the one hand, it is clear that war is a disaster and would result in Russia’s own destruction (see War and Our Role, December 2021), and this is something that the country’s leadership should understand. On the other hand, Putin and his entourage have become carried away with playing at the Soviet-American relations of the second half of last century. The game that they have contrived at playing is unprofessional, clumsy and absurd.  This game is at variance with the reality surrounding us. Both the balance of forces and the actual state of the world from every dimension is completely different to the situation 50 or even 30 years ago. Inevitable failure will lead to an uncontrollable eruption of resentment and trigger ambitions, resulting in ill-advised actions. In the interim, the situation over the past year has become so heated that it will prove extremely hard to rectify the mistakes.




In February 2021 Russia and the USA extended the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-III). This is important, but naturally is far from enough. Negotiations with the USA and NATO on a wide range of issues might be a way for Russia to extricate itself from its current predicament. For example, this might involve the following:

So if we were to start talk seriously and professionally from a political perspective, it goes without saying that a way out of the difficult situation established today in relations between Russia and the West could be found. As we see it, there are issues that need to be discussed, while the benefits will be considerable. All that is needed is political will or at the very list an understanding of personal responsibility .




Confrontation between the USSR and the West was built on the basis of fundamental ideological differences. The Soviet Union had a completely different idea in principle about the organisation of life than the USA, for example. They sought to prove through confrontation whose system was better and more viable. In this respect, in this day and age only China can truly stand up to the West, and even then only in part. Externally Russia has already been copying the USA and Europe for 30 years, but has in the process been falsifying respective institutions: elections, the judicial system, the separation of powers, constitution, law and fundamental rights, the presidential model of rule, etc.. Today Russia does not have its own concept on civilisation.

Putin’s system is based on personalised authoritarian rule veering towards totalitarianism  (see “Periphery Authoritarianism”, 2015). The foundation of this system is the immutability of power and the merger of property, business and the state, in other words, a mafia-based structure. In actual fact, the system’s survival is contingent on the immutability of power. And this is what Russia’s leadership today is fighting for. It is clear that Russian citizens don’t want their country to become involved in a war. However, this is just another way for the regime to distract the general public from countless domestic problems.

To justify the endless confrontation with the West, Russia’s propaganda channels disseminate myths – horror stories that the West is pursuing the goal of holding back Russia’s development and seizing its natural resources and territory. Incidentally, if we are talking about territorial claims, there is probably only one country in the world where the country’s textbooks refer to Russian lands as “disputed” or mention that they are owned “by right” by that country. I am referring here to China. However, Putin is doing his best to establish Russia as China’s “junior partner”.

Another strange “partner” for Putin is Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has been calling on the leaders of Russia and Ukraine to come to Turkey to “discuss their differences” and intends to pay a visit to Ukraine. Moreover recently Erdogan spelled out in no uncertain terms his opinion on any attempt to resolve these “differences” by force: “In the modern world the attempt to occupy another country’s land will not have the desired effect. For example, the steps taken by Russian in Ukraine, in Crimea. Every time I talk to Putin, I declare that Turkey is opposed to the occupation of Crimea.” China’s President Xi Jinping also declared in mid-January that confrontation does not resolve problems and “can only have catastrophic consequences.” 

Any conversations along the lines that someone in the West wants to hold back Russia’s development and grab its land and natural resources is nothing more than some fictitious phobia, which has the goal of keeping the Russian people in a constant state of fear and on edge and stoking up the topic of an external enemy responsible for the deterioration of people’s lives in Russia. It goes without saying that the international community is not a club of close relatives and intimate friends. Competition, and frequently intense at that, is the basis of relations between countries in the world. That is how it has always been and always will be. 

It is always the case when Russia loses out in competition, above all economic, that competitors exploit and continue to leverage this situation. However, competitors are not holding up our development: we ourselves are losing out more and more economically as Russian monopoly state capitalism is inefficient: we live primarily on the sale of natural resources and are intentionally implementing a foreign policy fraught with the risk of sanctions. This is the reason why Russia is lagging behind in economic development more and more (see A Conscious Choice? February 2015).

If we turn to the seizure of territories and natural resources, apart from China and Japan’s constant demands over the Kurile Islands, in actual fact no other territorial issues or claims exist at a political or geopolitical level. Moreover, this is because Russia is a nuclear superpower, which rules out the emergence of such issues in principle. For example, the, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty collapsed two and a half years ago. However, no new missiles have appeared in Europe since then. In 2015 Russia withdrew from another treaty — the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Western countries also stopped participating in this treaty. However, to date the level of armed forces and arms in Europe (both Russian and NATO) is 30-40% lower than the maximum restrictions stipulated in this treaty. 

Consequently, against the backdrop of the situation over Ukraine that has come to a head and the demands put the USA and NATO, Russia can choose from one of two paths: 

It goes without saying that the first path implies Russia’s recognition of its defeat on the diplomatic front. It transpires that we delivered an ultimatum that our Western “partners” ignored. However, why was there any need to use ultimatums as our trump card? This is a zero-sum game — someone is bound to lose. And whoever is weaker will lose. However, over time Russia will put this diplomatic fiasco behind it and possibly learn something positive from this lesson.

Today, we need to understand full well: Russian de-escalation along the Ukrainian border is a necessary step for any substantive negotiations. In terms of confrontation with NATO, Russia’s “all or nothing” position ultimately leads to a dead end as “all” will not happen anyway — so you actually end up with “nothing”.

Instead, it would be advisable to try and agree at the very least on those issues where there are currently areas of common interest, and subsequently continue the dialogue, proceeding from an understanding of reality, the course of history and the requirements of the time (see above “What could be done right now”). Choosing this path is itself a decision to choose peace. Otherwise we are left with the second path. 

Ukrainian servicemen standing near the coffins with the remains of victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near a Dutch military plane prior to its departure from the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on 28 November 2014 // Kharkiv City Press Service

This second path means war. Regardless of the actual “gains and victories”, such a war would end with a heap of corpses, and nobody would ever forgive either Putin or Russia. This second path is a crime, a crime against humanity. Historical accountability for such crimes is inevitable. And this would represent a massive leap forward towards Russia’s liquidation as a state in the 21st century.

We have to reconcile ourselves with losing the game according to the rules of the 20th century and start moving forward. The rules will be different, but only for people who have not committed crimes on the way, whose conscience is not contaminated by wars that they triggered and who has blood on their hands – the blood of tens of thousands of people.




Firstly. Time and history prove that if the key goal is Russia’s security and preservation, then there is only one path to take — the path of integration with Europe, Russia’s gradual transformation into a modern European country. Confrontation is a path leading to the exact opposite of security and territorial integrity. 

Secondly. In modern political discourse in Russia, there is no mention of the future, there is no portrayal of the country’s future as such. Instead there are nostalgic conversations about the past, and fictions are doing the rounds about the country as some “separate civilisation”.

As a general rule, if we are talking seriously about strategic security, bearing in mind a possible threat from NATO for Russia, then the only actual way of countering such a threat would be to influence the organisation from within. For example, practical cooperation between our country and NATO was possible in the second half of the 1990s and at the start of the 2000s when a serious proposal on the creation of a pan-European anti-missile defence system was proposed, with the participation of NATO, the USA and Russia. In other words, this implied application of the mechanism in the form of the European Union which has already held Europe back from a major war for almost 75 years. The profound interdependence of former enemies is a very effective way of preventing conflict. Incidentally, together Russia and NATO would be the most powerful military union in history. It is hard to imagine anything bigger. Sometimes people say that such a union would need a common enemy, and that Russia and the West don’t have such an enemy. In the modern world, however, things have not been like that for a long time. Such a union would have the goal where both sides find a form of co-existence instead of confrontation that has reached a peak historically. Let me repeat that the European Union is an example of such integration. And this path offers the only positive prospects for Russia

In 2000 Putin declared that in certain circumstances — if NATO were to be transformed slightly — Russia might consider joining the alliance, and in 2001 seriously discussed a joint anti-missile ballistic defence system with then NATO Secretary General George Robertson. Russia has always had the potential opportunity, similar to France, to join the political institutions of the North Atlantic bloc, while remaining outside military structures. 

NATO country leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a family photo at the end of a NATO-Russia summit at Pratica di Mare military airport in Italy, May 28, 2002 // REUTERS

Incidentally, the issue of Soviet membership of NATO was also discussed in the first years of the alliance’s existence. The issue was raised for the first time by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. President Boris Yeltsin also talked about Russia’s membership. Orally, Robertson agreed with this idea. It goes without saying that Russia is too big, too varied and too unpredictable, while its fully fledged participation in the bloc would probably present a challenge to America’s dominant position in the alliance. However, overcoming such obstacles is the mark of real politics.

Russia’s future is contingent on the establishment of a unified global economic centre with Europe, capable of competing on a par with the countries of the Asia-Pacific Region and North America which have already formed a comprehensive economic partnership. By contrast, however, the politics being implemented at present by the Russia regime are creating more and more threats for the country. For example, everyone knows that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 boosted the North Atlantic Alliance and was the catalyst for an increase in European expenditure on defence and led to the creation of the very NATO divisions in Eastern Europe whose removal Putin is now demanding. Surely our country’s leadership must realise that owing to the instability in Donbass, it would not be possible to prevent Ukraine from cooperating or joining NATO?  On the contrary, the Kremlin’s policies in the east of Ukraine have only intensified Ukraine’s drift towards NATO.

Recently NATO has been proactively ramping up its military and political assistance to Ukraine. The Pentagon has declared its readiness to send 8,500 US soldiers to the area of a possible conflict. Western European countries are intensifying their military presence in Eastern Europe. The situation is spiralling out of control: the threat of expanding Russia’s invasion into Ukraine is provoking Western politicians to take actions aimed at intimidating Russia: US and NATO armed forces are building up near Ukraine’s borders and in Eastern Europe, which is causing more and more irritation and aggressiveness in the Kremlin.

The manoeuvres and ultimatums, latent and clear threats, retaliatory moves and counteractions are building up and at some point will be transformed into a massive snowball which will keep on growing regardless of the actual instigator, into an avalanche of problems that will be unstoppable, even if one wanted to. 

In just half a year, it would appear that the sparring and creation of artificial tension so typical of Putin’s Russia with the West is virtually becoming a vicious circle and is being transformed into a self-fulfilling advance towards armed confrontation. The war of nerves is escalating into a real war. 

Putin’s politics is leading Russia to a break with reality, time and history. The outcome will be sombre. 

Incidentally, it would come as no surprise if it were to turn out at some point that the promotion of war with Ukraine “by certain forces” in the West (and possibly in Moscow) had been planned in order to draw Russia into a situation which delivers the maximum losses for the country in terms of consequences, regardless of the outcome.


In view of the dangerous trends at present, the key issue is — where is Russia moving? The Russian empire cannot be recreated, nor can the Soviet Union. There is and cannot be any “separate Russian civilization” proclaimed by Putin. There is only one path for Russia – the European path. This implies becoming part of an economic, political and fundamentally military union, in order to control it on the one hand and ensure the country’s own safety on the other hand. Geopolitically, as people love to say these days, the issue can be summed up as follows: either a European Russia complying with the realities of the 21st century or the end of Russia as we know it.  

In order to become European, our country must play a proactive part in the development of security infrastructure for Europe as a whole, become a truly positive partner of the United States, the European Union and the West as a whole and create a “common European home”.

All the neighbours surrounding Russia must be recognised as equal partners. They are not puppets or vassals. These countries should not simply be perceived as stepping-stones for NATO’s possible aggression against our country. These are sovereign countries with their own people, history and specifics. 

The violation by Russia of the territorial integrity of other countries, the repudiation of the rights of people to choose their own fate, aggression against neighbours and attempts at the destabilisation of Western countries using various methods — all this is pointless, is counterproductive from every angle and must be stopped once and for all. 

Finally, Russia’s foreign policy should do away with the loutish behaviour observed recently. We need to put Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs back on a professional diplomatic footing as soon as possible. During a January press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lavrov declared that Russia was preparing for any scenario which it waited for a response from the USA and NATO on the proposed security guarantees. Lavrov said: “Our patience has run out. We have harnessed ourselves for a long time that now is the time to move. — We are waiting for the coachman on that cart to answer our proposals specifically”. 

It is not hard to predict the response of the “coachman”.