American expert: It depends on Bulgaria whether it wants to return to Russian control
The West must be ready for new provocations from Russia. Daniel Fried, former US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs from 2005 to 2009 and an honorary member of the Atlantic Council in Washington warned about this in an interview with BNR.
“I think Putin is trying to intimidate, use ‘disguise’ and pressure to force the West to accept Russian control over Ukraine and return Russian control over other Central and Eastern European countries. We must not allow it. We must also be ready to work and negotiate with Russia if Putin wants to solve real security problems, not the ones he invents, so we must be both firm and willing to talk to the Russians ... It depends on Bulgaria whether it will be part of the talks. It will be important what Bulgaria wants, we will not have anything in Bulgaria without its approval, but the Biden administration has already announced that it will work in this direction if necessary, and will consult with NATO and all the Bucharest Nine countries.”
According to him, the United States has already made its counter-proposal to Russia - discussing arms control and transparency in exercises. It seems that Russia will continue to maintain a firm tone and a limited military conflict is very likely in the short term.
"During the talks, the West had to decide whether to maintain its position on the security and sovereignty of all countries that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or to accept Putin's demands for Russian domination. In this case, the allies remained steadfast. Putin's provocations will continue, which means we will face even more difficult challenges."
What are the problems that Putin is making up, as you say?
The first problem imagined is that NATO enlargement is somehow threatening Russia. No such thing. Following the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary to NATO in 1997, the United States began to withdraw its forces from Europe rather than increase its contingent. NATO enlargement has made Europe as stable as it has been throughout the twentieth century. The second problem invented by Putin is that somehow Ukraine does not exist as a state. He says Ukrainians do not deserve their country and are part of Russia. And that if Ukraine exists separately at all, it will be like a little brother who recognizes Russia's control. Ukrainians do not agree. They have proven that they are a state, and Putin's attempts to eliminate Ukraine as such are part of the dark side of Russian imperialist thinking. This is also a fictional problem. Another imagined problem is that the United States is responsible for the fact that the Ukrainians are resisting Russian control. Ukrainians do it because they believe in their country no less than Bulgarians believe in Bulgaria. And they are right - patriotism is a good thing, but not nationalism.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expects a written response from the United States to Russia's demands, if they are not accepted, then he wants a counter-proposal. What is this counter-offer?
The United States and NATO allies have suggested that Russia discuss a number of security issues, such as military transparency, including exercises, arms control, and possible restrictions on the deployment of defense missiles near the border. Russia has allowed European security structures such as the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the Vienna Document between the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Treaty on the Elimination of Medium-Range Missiles to be undermined. The United States and NATO would be happy to discuss European security with Russia, which will benefit everyone. But we will not discuss rebuilding the Iron Curtain, which is what Russia actually wants. Instead of giving ultimatums, Lavrov must start cooperating on real security issues.
But Moscow does not appear to be preparing for co-operation, maintaining a firm tone - Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko has threatened military action if political measures fail. What interest does Russia have in raising tensions?
You are right that the Russians are threatening with war and aggression. This is shameful and unworthy of a serious country. I think they are doing it because they believe that Europe and the United States may be intimidated into making concessions. This militancy belongs to the worst times of the Soviet Union - there is no place in the present. But apparently according to Russia there is. We must be patient, firm, constructive, if possible, but determined not to accept Putin's rhetoric and aggressive threats.
After the talks, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Russia had two options - diplomacy or confrontation. But Russia has said it expects a NATO declaration from the Madrid summit this summer - isn't that an indication that Russia will not run away from the negotiating table and is preparing for a marathon?
I hope. I believe that it is possible that if Europe and the United States are patient, stable, determined, and willing to engage in constructive discussions, Putin will find a way to choose the path of diplomacy rather than confrontation. We had to be straight in our position and we did. Now let Putin decide.
There is talk of a new security architecture in Europe. Why has Russia chosen to raise this issue right now - in the past, a new security architecture was established after wars before negotiations could take place? Why does Russia now see an opportunity for a change in architecture?
There is no good reason for Russia to provoke this crisis. They have invaded Ukraine, kept their military forces there, and intend to seize more territory if they can. There is no good reason for Putin to provoke this crisis. But he seems to have concluded that the United States may be blackmailed into giving him concessions that he does not deserve. If Putin wants to discuss security, we can do it. But if he wants to rewrite the conditions for European order after the Cold War, to restore the Iron Curtain or Russia's sphere of domination, he will fail.
What is the place of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in these negotiations?
Nord Stream 2 is an example of Russia's attempts to gain leverage over Europe through energy. And, of course, Russia is using natural gas as a weapon - we have seen it before, we see it now - they have delayed supplies to Europe to reduce storage stocks just at the beginning of winter. This is undoubtedly an attempt by the Kremlin to impose its influence. Nord Stream 2 is a bad idea. The Biden administration has decided not to try to kill the pipeline with sanctions, but to work with Germany to help Ukraine avoid tightening Russia's gas grip. Germany agreed to do so but frankly did not show enough vigor in implementing the agreement with America. The United States and Europe must reduce Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas.
How will all this tension affect the countries on NATO's eastern flank, including Bulgaria? Will there be additional NATO forces?
The United States has said that if Russia shows new aggression against Ukraine, our response will be to strengthen our forces in NATO's eastern flank. It depends on Bulgaria whether it will be among them. What matters is what Bulgaria wants. We will not have anything in Bulgaria without its approval. This is not the Warsaw Pact! But the Biden administration has already announced that it will work in this direction, if necessary, and will consult with NATO and all the Bucharest Nine countries.
And do you expect that to happen, despite Moscow's assurances that it has no plans to invade Ukraine?
Cyber-attacks on Ukrainian government websites have already been reported - so this aggression may already be underway. And for military attacks? I expect there to be limited attacks, but there may be more.
Should we prepare for a worsening of the situation?
In the short term, we should not be surprised if this happens. We must be stable, strong, and better times will come.
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