These days it feels like we are back in the days of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Browsing Russia’s national television channels, Russia 1 and Channel One, people can’t help but feel that they have been taken to the 1970s. The militant speech is back, and the main criticism of the decadent West is back; the film offering ranges from the classic film “Irony of Destiny” in 1976 to the comedy “Kidnapping, Caucasian Style” in 1967 to the smash hit in 1969 The momentary “Diamond Arm”.
On the 30th anniversary of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Russian people are full of healthy diets that miss the good times of order and social stability in the past.
Going back in time seems to be the tone of Moscow’s foreign policy. The US-Russia summit is becoming a regular feature of relations and a flashback to the height of the Cold War. On December 30, US President Biden and Russian President Putin talked on the phone to discuss the tension in Ukraine. According to reports, each of them issued a warning to each other, but the overall tone was “constructive.”
The exchange took place after a meeting between the two leaders via a video link on December 7th. The meeting discussed a series of issues including Ukraine. Six months ago, they held a face-to-face summit in Geneva, which led to the return of the US and Russian ambassadors to their respective capitals.
Communication between different government levels has also been strengthened. In early November, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and former ambassador to Russia William Burns went to Moscow, where he met Putin, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, and Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Agency Sergey Naryshkin discussed the tension with Ukraine. US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan has also been in contact with Putin’s foreign policy aid Yuri Ushakov.
For the Kremlin, getting Biden to concentrate is a success. This clearly shows that it is effective to build up the army and threaten to take military action against Ukraine. For the past six years, Moscow has been frustrated with the impasse in the Ukrainian conflict. The Minsk II Agreement reached under the mediation of France and Germany in 2015 failed to end the fighting.
Kiev and Moscow accused each other of lack of progress. The Russians claim that Ukraine has not fulfilled its commitment to implement constitutional reforms, namely granting the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic extensive autonomy as a step to reintegrate them. The Ukrainian side accused Russia of not allowing the Kiev government to regain control of the Russian-Ukrainian border.
To overcome the deadlock, the Kremlin hopes to bypass Paris and Berlin through the United States and force a new agreement to be reached. The idea is that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will face a fait accompli and will have no choice but to obey.
But in the process of contacting the United States, Russia has also increased its stakes. On December 17, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs circulated two treaty proposals, one with the United States and one with NATO. They asked the Atlantic Alliance to cancel the promises made in April 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia could one day join.
The draft also requires NATO not to deploy large combat forces among its eastern members, as it began to do so after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Moscow also hopes that NATO will promise not to deploy medium-range missiles near its borders.
Last but not least, these proposals call for the cessation of military assistance to Ukraine, whether provided by the United States or through NATO, and the cessation of alliance exercises involving post-Soviet countries. In essence, Russia hopes to turn back time to the late 1990s, drive the West out of Eastern Europe, and consolidate its hegemonic position in its so-called “close neighbors.”
In pursuing these goals, the Kremlin is using its military influence. It is estimated that there are currently more than 100,000 Russian troops and heavy weapons deployed near the Russian-Ukrainian border and the annexed Crimea Peninsula. A large part of it has been deployed since the beginning of 2021. Therefore, actions against Ukraine are not excluded. Putin may be bluffing, but if he decides to take action against neighboring countries, he won’t have any trouble.
The response of the United States and its European allies is to bring Russia to the negotiating table to ease tensions.
After the Biden administration actively engaged in diplomatic contacts, in late December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that the talks would be held on January 10. The Russia-NATO meeting will be held in two days. Even though most of Russia’s proposals are impossible for the West, participating in the diplomatic process is preferable to violence.
If all goes well, there may be some limited progress, especially in the “conflict resolution” of areas where NATO and Russia are confronting each other, such as the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. Over time, negotiations may produce partial security agreements that are acceptable to both parties and countries such as Ukraine and Georgia. This is contrary to the Kremlin’s belief that they have their own interests and agency rights.
But to be sure, there are also many skeptics. Some authorities said that Russia’s announcement of the draft treaty before the actual talks was an ingenious strategy that undermined the diplomatic track and used it as an excuse to take military actions against Ukraine.
In order to succeed in this game, the United States and its allies need to negotiate with Russia from the perspective of strength. Just like in Brezhnev’s time, they need to deter Moscow in a credible way in order to open up space for real negotiations. This is why the United States is communicating to Putin that it intends to strengthen economic sanctions — in Biden’s words, “he has never seen it before” — just in case.
However, it is not clear to what extent the European Union Congress will follow suit. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has always called for caution. Germany’s new ruling coalition composed of the left, the Greens, and the liberals may find itself at odds on this issue. Prime Minister Olaf Schultz takes a dovish line, and Foreign Minister Annalena Belbok pushes for a tough line. Response. There is no doubt that Russia will do its best to take advantage of any political differences that may arise within NATO.
So far, Putin’s strategy is paying off. Moscow has been dealing with Washington as a near-geopolitical counterpart. As the United States focuses on a rising China, this is no small matter. Brezhnev’s Soviet Union may no longer exist. Today’s Russia may be a pale shadow of its predecessor, but from the perspective of the Kremlin, it is doing its best to stay in the game.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.