The prospects of a Russian invasion of Ukraine have resulted in high level talks in Geneva. This is the second time the Biden administration has met there to negotiate over its disagreements with Moscow, the previous time being back in June of 2021.
The first set of meetings produced little of substance. Unfortunately, the second set of meetings seem to be achieving something similar.
According to recent reporting Russia claims the negotiations have hit a "dead end" and that there is no reason to continue them.
The tone surrounding the meetings are pessimistic, if not dire. Poland’s Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that because of Russian behavior it "…seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years."
U.S. Ambassador Michael Carpenter told reporters that "The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill."
The United States has made it clear that while it would not send troops, it would impose very high costs on Russia if it were to actually invade Ukraine, including cutting Russia off from SWIFT as well as arming Ukrainian insurgents.
Despite such warnings, a Russian invasion seems possible. Putin is difficult to predict, but you do not amass 100,000 troops on a foreign border and send them home with nothing to show for it. It would be terribly embarrassing to Putin if the west called his bluff, hurting his standing among his people when things are already not great in Russia.
It is not as if Russia did not try to make an offer. In exchange for withdrawing troops, the United States had to give legal guarantees which would prevent NATO from offering membership to Ukraine. Russia also demanded the United States stop all development of new military infrastructure in Eastern Europe as well as ban intermediate range missiles.
But such demands were considered unserious by the United States. Why? Because according to America, no one gets to tell them how they pursue their security or who can join their alliances. Russian demands were therefore dismissed as "non-starters."
So talks failed, and their failure followed the same pattern seen elsewhere where America offers little yet expects full compliance from those across the table.
Context is important when discussing the Russia-American relationship as most western accounts are insanely biased. It needs to be kept in mind that it was America that added 14 new countries to its sphere of influence, all of which were at the expense of Russia. It was also America that unilaterally left the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, both over Russia objections. It is also America that regularly conducts military exercises next to Russian borders, in places like Albania, Estonia, and Bulgaria.
Over the past 3 decades it has been America that has encroached on Russian interests, almost entirely unabated. Yet America claims that it is responsibility of Russia to make concessions, although it is not entirely clear what should Russia offer. Moscow does not do any of these things in comparison; it literally suggested it would have to send troops to Cuba and Venezuela to get some sort of comparable leverage. The only option appears to be for Putin to return his army back to their barracks and let Ukraine drift further into the west’s orbit.
That’s not how diplomacy works, and it is no wonder that talks failed when America conducts business that way.
America’s position on Ukraine is entirely nonsensical. It has already acknowledged that there is no national interest that justifies defending Ukraine from invasion. At least not serious enough to warrant sending American troops. Yet America will engage in intense negotiations to ensure that Ukraine have the ability to enter an alliance that obligates America to defend it if attacked.
America also claims that Ukraine is a sovereign country and should be allowed to make up its own mind about what it wants to do. Let’s just ignore the fact that America is discussing Ukrainian security without the Ukrainians present. But ironies aside, it’s hard to take this argument seriously when America has continually violated Ukrainian sovereignty in an attempt to steer the country west, the most obvious example being the Orange Revolution of 2004.
America’s Ukrainian policy is hazardous to the region’s security. The truth is that Ukraine means almost everything to Russia which is why they are willing to risk so much over it. Its fate is the single most important point of contention between the two powers and blocks progress on all other issues between them. America needs to ask itself if it seriously wants to further antagonize Russia over a country that is has already acknowledge means little to its own security. The answer should be no, and America should get back to negotiations with Russia and offer it what it wants, which is a neutral Ukraine and a secure border.
Brian Clark is a foreign policy analyst with a research interest in American Grand Strategy. He has been published in The National Interest, 19fortyfive.com, and The American Conservative.