Ukraine conflict: Russia calls for ultimate security guarantees: “A matter of life and death”

Berlin The American-Russian meeting in Geneva could not have started under worse conditions. In the event of a failure to agree, Moscow threatens “military measures, Washington announces severe economic sanctions.

Even before the two heads of delegation, Wendy Sherman and Sergei Rjabkow – both deputy foreign ministers of their countries – met for dinner on Sunday evening, the Moscow diplomat had launched a sharp attack on the West: if Russia failed, Russia would “use other means”, and to be sure, “to intimidate the enemy,” said Ryabkov.

On Monday and Tuesday, Russian and American diplomats and the military will talk in Geneva about Russian calls for Ukraine and Georgia to be banned from joining NATO and to stop the western alliance from advancing eastwards. The Russian delegation will meet with representatives of the NATO countries in Brussels on Wednesday. On Thursday, Ukraine will be present for the first time at the meeting of the 57 countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

It could be the crucial week for long-term East-West relations. And it could be the crucial week on whether there is a war in Ukraine. Russia has gathered more than 100,000 soldiers with tanks, rocket launchers and airborne units on the border with Ukraine. According to Ryabkov, the conflict was the worst since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. At that time, the Soviet Union wanted to deploy nuclear missiles on the communist island, and the world was facing nuclear war. Now it is about “balance” and “deterrence”, according to the Russian interpretation.

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Washington shows the instruments of torture

Before Ryabkov’s verbal attacks, the US government had expressed itself in great detail about possible sanctions that the West could impose on Russia. Presenting such planning steps in background media discussions is considered to be very unusual in diplomacy. But that should prevent Moscow from attacking Kiev.

In addition to the sanctions already discussed with EU and NATO partners, such as the shutdown of Russian financial institutions by the international payment service provider Swift and the final shutdown of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline, which has not yet been certified by the Federal Network Agency, there are other tough measures: arms deliveries to Ukraine which would cost Russia a heavy toll in blood if attacked.

In addition, there are export bans in the area of, for example, chips, computers, smartphones and electronics to household appliances with US parts and, with the approval of the allies, also European, Japanese, Turkish and Korean ones.

The hardware and software required for quantum computing and artificial intelligence would also be put on a sanction list.

Such a technology embargo against the Soviet Union last occurred at the height of the Cold War. The Russian industry today produces a lot of its own, but hardly any technically high-quality consumer goods such as laptops or cell phones. And there are many European or American components in Russian aircraft and other industrial goods.

Consequences for German industry

In an internal evaluation, the USA found that US President Barack Obama’s sanctions as a reaction to the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea were “too weak” and did not lead to a withdrawal of the Russians. For this reason, a high-ranking US official told the “New York Times”, a conscious effort is now being made to deter a new invasion by announcing massive sanctions. Since December, the USA has also been talking to its European allies about the sanctions planned in the event of an emergency.

Above all, a high-tech embargo would hit the German economy hard. Because then no more modern machines should be delivered eastwards or manufactured in joint ventures in Russia. However, German medium-sized companies in particular have so far been in high demand. Russia, however, is not up to date when it comes to mechanical engineering. And modern cars, trains, turbines or industrial plants are manufactured in Russia by subsidiaries of foreign companies or by joint ventures with mostly European companies.

The severity of the planned sanctions is similar to the action taken by former US President Donald Trump against Iran: Swift, which connects more than 11,000 banks in 200 countries, has so far only switched off North Korea and Iran for reasons of sanctions.

Fear of Russian backlash

“In solidarity with the USA, Berlin must throw everything in the balance to curb Moscow’s ambitions and prevent the Russian leadership from a new military intervention in Ukraine,” says Liana Fix, Russia expert at the Körber Foundation, which is highly respected in terms of foreign policy. In her opinion, the sanctions could be implemented relatively quickly. Because the Russian leadership has “restricted its scope of action with ultimatums and threats to such an extent that the question arises of the extent to which Moscow is still willing to compromise”.

Heads of State Putin (left), Biden

Conceivably unfavorable sign. (Archive recording)

(Photo: AP)

A meeting between the new Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would also be helpful. This is by no means an “appeasement policy”, meaning giving in to the Kremlin. Because Germany has an important hinge function in the looming new East-West conflict. And would be hard hit economically in the event of sanctions. Not least because Russia would respond with counter-sanctions. At least that is what Washington expects. Again and again there is talk of a possible stop to oil and gas deliveries to Europe. That is why Evelyn Farkas, a former high-ranking official in the Pentagon, is calling for a “significant expansion of US exports of liquefied gas to Europe” in order to “take the cards out of Putin’s hand”.

Putin wanted, according to Farkas, “the survival of his autocratic kleptocratic regime and, instead, regional zones of influence such as existed before the Second World War”. This is “a challenge to the world order”, a throwback to the times of the Yalta Conference. Three months before the end of the war, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt had politically divided Europe into East and West. Should Moscow prevail on the Ukraine issue, there would be ever new challenges, cyber attacks on NATO countries and thus the test of whether Article five of the NATO treaty – the military alliance case – also applies to Russian attacks in the Baltic States.

“A question of life and death”

Russia accuses the West of moving ever closer to its western border militarily, of wanting to station offensive weapons in Ukraine and thus undermining Russia’s security. That is why the Kremlin is calling for security guarantees such as Ukraine’s declared renunciation of NATO membership and a great distance between western warships and air forces and Russia in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. These security guarantees are “a matter of life and death,” said Putin’s spokesman.

US Secretary of State Blinken ruled out any progress in the talks if Russia wanted to continue to negotiate with “the gun on the head of Ukraine”.

In order to get into a stronger position, NATO should move troops and heavy military equipment to Poland and the Baltic States and strong air force units to Romania and Bulgaria, says former NATO commander-in-chief in Europe, ex-General Wesley Clark. That is the “necessary deterrent” to get success in the negotiations.

This is strongly reminiscent of NATO’s double decision of the 1980s – when the Western alliance threatened to upgrade Europe with new US missiles and cruise missiles in the event that the Soviets deployed SS20 nuclear missiles. In the end, both sides disarmed.

More: Negotiating with the Russian aggressor: what does Putin want?

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