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 WED 2 FEB 2022







Russian security concerns demand to be taken seriously, not dismissed out of hand. A major obstacle to progress in negotiation is the idea that 'we' never engage in disinformation and that Russia is largely or wholly about disinformation. This is not the case and makes respectful dialogue impossible. 


The Russian 'narrative' – whose bottom line is that Russia feels threatened by a NATO expansion that in the 1990s it was assured would never take place – ('not one inch east') – also needs to be respected, not dismissed as 'disinformation'. Finally, and deeply relatedly, specific Russian proposals for security should be taken with the utmost seriousness and not set aside as propaganda or disinformation. This particularly applies to the proposals released by Russia on 17 Dec.


This is not to suggest that Russia has never engaged in disinformation or that every word that comes from Putin or Lavrov's golden mouth must be believed as gospel. But before pointing to the undoubted biases in the Russian story on Ukraine (e.g., 'Russia and Ukraine are one') we do well to acknowledge that the 'western' story also has its biases, and that our very 'exposures' of Russian 'disinformation' are, inevitably, regarded as precisely disinformation. (e.g. 'not one inch east' was never said).


In the meantime, our own biases have prevented us from taking seriously enough, Russian proposals that should be taken absolutely seriously, and if taken seriously could solve the current crisis.



It would be nice if, on these proposals we could be able to say 'which part of the word 'YES' do you not understand?


Western commentary on the proposals, tabled on 17 Dec instead gets off to a terrible start with Steve Pifer of Brookings commenting that: 'The substance of the drafts and the way the Russians publicised them do not suggest a serious negotiating bid'.



Nonsense. The opposite is the case.(and even if it isn't, we'd be better off acting as if it is). The drafts encapsulate concerns Russia has had for the last 2-3 decades, and encapsulate concerns shared by the Russian security establishment as a whole and not limited to Putin, and not part of any attempt to re-establish the Russian empire. The drafts encapsulate concerns that for example, Gorbachev would share. In a recent comment on the situation, referring to the promises made to Russia in the early-mid 1990s, that NATO would not expand,



Gorbachev is said to have said sometime last month, 'we were screwed'. How right he was/is. 


It might be too late to reverse NATO entry to the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and others who have joined since 1990. However, the fact is that the promise 'not an inch east' was made, made repeatedly, and broken. Now we deny it ever happened. That has consequences, and NATOs own failure to recognise and acknowledge it has consequences – consequences we are now reaping. I am told it 'wasn't NATO as NATO' that said repeatedly words to the effect of 'not an inch east'. That is frankly neither here nor there. What matters is what Russians – Gorbachev and Yeltsin – understood at the time.


The Putin proposals docontain/encapsulate issues Russia has been expressing concern and even outrage about, over the last 3 decades or so.(indeed, ALL the proposals cover such issues).


Pifer suggests that the posting of these proposals publicly suggests they are not meant to be taken seriously as a basis for negotiation. I think it suggests precisely the opposite – that these are concerns that have been festering for decades and that Russia has lost patience with 'regular' negotiations that end – or rather that never begin, with zero purchase.


A number of proposals stand out as particularly worthy of attention of which the below are but a sample:


Article 4


The Russian Federation and all the Parties that were member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as of 27 May 1997, respectively, shall not deploy military forces and weaponry on the territory of any of the other States in Europe in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997. With the consent of all the Parties such deployments can take place in exceptional cases to eliminate a threat to security of one or more Parties.”


Once more, this was the subject of extensive dialogue in the '90s in which Russia was promised things and the opposite then happened – in this case that US missile defence installations would not be stationed in former Warsaw pact nations, and that US forces would not be stationed there – and then suddenly they were there. East-central Europe was initially envisaged as a kind of neutral zone. Then suddenly it wasn’t. 


A most important items is:


Article 5


The Parties shall not deploy land-based intermediate- and short-range missiles in areas allowing them to reach the territory of the other Parties.”


Pifer once more dismisses this, saying that Russia itself is now violating it by the deployment of Iskander medium range missiles. This is no reason to dismiss it indeed the opposite.


It is precisely to the point. Iskander missiles (and do not forget the US gravity bombs now deployed further west -they may be less formidable than Iskanders and less tactically useful but they too are tactical nukes intended for war-fighting in Europe) – are the most potent threat to Poland, Germany, the Baltics, and of course Ukraine not to mention Hungary, Czech republic, Slovakia, Austria – that there is. The use of Iskander NUCLEAR missiles (not every Iskander IS nuclear) – would not only devastate east Central Europe, but would be the trigger for global thermonuclear war that would end civilisation. Not every Iskander being moved westwards is of course nuclear tipped, indeed most probably (hopefully) are not.


Even as they are deployed, Putin has in effect said 'if you don’t want me to do this, just sign on this dotted line'. 


Of course it would mean no missile defence installations in Poland or Romania – something Russia has protested over for the last decades.


By scorning Article 5 of the Russian proposals – indeed by refusing to take the proposals as a whole seriously at all – NATO cements Russia’s own deployment of weapons that potentially, can be the tripwire for the apocalypse.


Pifer suggests grudgingly that there might be room for manoeuvre over military exercises, both in Ukraine and in other NATO member states. Military exercises in Poland have been a significant irritant in NATO-Russia relationships ver the last decade. The forbidding of exercises over the brigade level in an agreed zone really does sound like a good idea. Yet why wasn't this agreed a decade ago?


And by refusing to take Russian concerns seriously, the 'west' (whatever that is) makes it impossible for progress on genuinely held and long term concerns to take place, and responds to long held grievances and fears with mockery, while making the resolution of real issues impossible.


Neither Russia nor the 'west' holds a monopoly on disinformation and neither holds a monopoly on brushing aside legitimate concerns of others. Neither has a monopoly on bloodymindedness. However if we are to point out the mote in our opposite number's eye we must first be sure we have removed the beam in our own.


We are going to have to lift our game if we are to improve the security of Ukraine and Europe and make nuclear escalation – let alone conventional war – in Europe a concern of the past.


Finally, as a member of the steering committee of the Global No First UseCampaign I must point out that if Russia and the US and NATO were to negotiate a mutual No First Useagreement, an escalation from conventional to nuclear war in Europe would become all but impossible, and we would not be standing as we now do, potentially, on the brink of the abyss. 


John Hallam

Nuclear Weapons Campaigner

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project

Co-Convenor, Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group

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