A breakthrough is far away: a week of negotiations between Russia and the West ended inconclusively

The meeting within the framework of the OSCE did not refresh the relations of the parties

Negotiations of the member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ended in Vienna – the first in the beginning of the year and under the chairmanship of Poland, replaced Sweden on 1 January. Neither politicians nor political scientists expected breakthroughs from the meeting, but the very context of the last summit remains no less important: the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council symbolically ended an extremely active week of dialogue between Russia and the West, which unfolded at various venues. Together with experts, we evaluated the results and prospects of this process.

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Even the very fact of Poland's presidency for Russia, if not of critical importance, turned out to be in any case an extra “hairpin” on the part of the collective West. It is known that relations with Warsaw in Moscow in recent years have been at a critically low level, and Polish officials do not miss the opportunity to publicly release negative comments about the Russian Federation. The situation is approximately the same this time: in particular, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who currently holds the post of chairman of the OSCE, said that the risk of war in Europe at the moment is the highest in the last three decades. Russia was not directly named as a source of instability, however, given the general sentiment, as well as the presence of a Ukrainian representative at the meeting with the expected rhetoric, it is hard not to see an obvious hint in the words of the Polish minister.

As for the already mentioned Ukraine, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the republic, Dmitry Kuleba, devoted almost his entire speech to journalists (the meeting of the OSCE Council itself was held behind closed doors) devoted to the Russian role, the topic of “Kremlin aggression” and how strong and consistent the support provided by Western countries of Kiev. “Partners fully share the position of Ukraine: the principles of the OSCE, enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act, are unshakable, including the right of states to freely choose which organization or union treaty to be a part of,” the minister said, obviously implying both European and pro-NATO aspirations his country. For Russia, the possible eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance remains one of the most painful and fundamental issues, on which there has been no compromise with Washington (de facto playing the first role in NATO) for many years.

In general, the OSCE meeting did not bring any sensations, either in a positive or negative sense, and, in fact, almost no one expected them. Few political scientists have tried to link, partly not without reason, the January 13 talks with the meetings that preceded them just a few days earlier at the Russia-USA and NATO Russian Federation sites, but even in Moscow this sequence was assessed as an accident. “This is nothing more than such a coincidence in the triad (negotiations)…,” noted, in particular, Russian permanent representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich on the eve of the Vienna summit. “Of course, we will use this meeting to once again talk about the philosophy of our initiatives in the field of European security, taking into account the rounds of negotiations.”

Earlier, the meetings with Western partners were evaluated by the press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov. According to him, they were ineffective. Moscow and Washington, like other capitals of the NATO countries, failed to reach new agreements. The only positive signal can be considered, perhaps, only the fact that the discussion did not come close to possible new anti-Russian sanctions by the United States and the probable response of the Kremlin: if the parties could not get closer, then at least at the moment they avoided an outright escalation. The unabated coronavirus pandemic obviously played an important role: in the context of the rapid spread of the Omicron strain, issues of health care and mutual assistance in terms of developing and supplying vaccines partially replaced military-political issues.

“The essence of all these negotiations was the path their participants would take: they would quarrel again, or they would agree to look for common ground,” the head of the Center for International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations said in this regard in a conversation with MK. RAS Alexey ARBATOV… – In my opinion, despite the persistence of tension, so far everything speaks rather in favor of the second option. The rest is nothing new: Ukraine again accused Russia of what is happening in the Donbass, Moscow responded to Kiev with mutual reproaches. As for any breakthrough solutions, none of the parties could have counted on them, especially at the summit within the framework of the OSCE. It is noteworthy that Lukashevich, before the meeting in Vienna, tried to minimize the possible overestimated expectations of the observers. According to the Russian diplomat, a significant part of the summit was devoted to voicing by Poland its plans of work as the OSCE chairmanship state, and not to acute and urgent world problems.

International relations expert Vladimir FROLOV, in turn, believes that the meeting on January 13 was just a “decoration”, and the main issues were raised at the Russian-American talks three days earlier. “The main point on this path was Geneva (it was there that representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States met on January 10. -“ MK ”), the analyst recalled in a conversation with us. “Everything became clear there already. The negotiations did not produce results on the main tracks for Moscow, but have at least outlined opportunities for new narrow agreements in areas such as arms control or, for example, on limiting military exercises in the most destabilizing formats.However, even in the most optimistic case, further discussion of the identified problems will take months, if not years, with that they do not solve anything for the Russian Federation in a strategic sense. With this in mind, Frolov believes, both Moscow and Washington will again make a choice in favor of further escalation, including in order to attract the attention of partners. An effective solution to the accumulated problems is theoretically possible only at the level of presidents: at least, this is clearly what the Russian side wants, the expert believes. However, the American establishment is still hardly ready to give US President Joe Biden such powers, the MK interlocutor concludes: this will obviously drag out the process. According to Alexei Arbatov, it is also impossible to rule out new negotiations in the short term, at least at the level of representatives of the heads of state, but their conduct will depend on the political will of the Kremlin.


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