‘No concessions’ over NATO expansion – insists Russia’s deputy foreign minister Ryabkov

Anti-NATO demonstration in Russia

RUSSIA’S deputy foreign minister says Moscow is ‘disappointed’ by signals from Washington and Brussels demanding unilateral concessions from the Russian side ahead of talks intended to ease tensions over Ukraine.

Sergei Ryabkov, quoted by Russia’s Interfax and RIA news agencies, made the remarks on Sunday, the day before negotiations in Geneva on a wide-ranging new security arrangement that Moscow is seeking with the West over NATO’s eastward expansion.

‘We are disappointed with the signals coming in the last few days from Washington but also from Brussels, Ryabkov said.

‘We will not agree to any concession. That is completely excluded.’

The high-level discussions between US and Russian diplomats resumed yesterday (Monday) after a weeks-long standoff over Russian troop deployments near its border with Ukraine.

Western governments accuse Russia of planning ‘an invasion’ of Ukraine. Moscow has rejected the allegations and insisted that the border deployments are defensive in nature.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has threatened Russia with ‘massive consequences’ if it launches any military action in neighbouring Ukraine.

The Russian government has repeatedly reiterated that the expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine is a red line for Moscow and that any future expansion must exclude Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.

Last month, the Russian government made demands on NATO and Ukraine about the future of their relationship, calling on the Western military alliance to deny Ukraine membership to NATO and to roll back its military deployments.

Moscow also proposed that the United States does not establish any military bases in former Soviet states which are not part of NATO, nor develop a bilateral military alliance with them.

NATO, however, strongly rejected the proposals, stressing that the alliance will not abandon its basic principle of freedom for countries to join military blocs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously warned that Moscow will act if the US-led NATO military alliance crosses its red lines in Ukraine.

Washington and its allies have been harping on about what they claim are Moscow’s ill-intentioned plans for Ukraine ever since 2014, when a wave of protests overthrew Ukraine’s democratically-elected pro-Moscow government and replaced it with a Western-leaning administration.

A crisis followed after the majority of people in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions refused to accept the new changes and took up arms against Ukrainian troops.

Kiev and the Western countries accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis. Moscow denies the allegations.

Meanwhile, Russia and the United States began talks on security guarantees in Geneva yesterday (Monday).

The meeting is being held in a closed format at the US Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

The central issue is Russia’s security suggestions for NATO and Washington, in particular, provisions on the mutual non-deployment of intermediate and shorter-range missiles, non-expansion of NATO eastward and reduction of military exercises.

The Russian delegation is headed by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin. The US delegation is led by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

Meanwhile in Kazakhstan, speaking about the wave of protests that has swept across the country, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, addressing a meeting of the heads of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) yesterday said that ‘the terrorists’ main goal is to undermine constitutional order, the seizure of power and an attempted coup.’

‘Maidan methods’ have been resorted to in Kazakhstan, with the country facing a genuine threat to its statehood, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the CSTO conference by video call.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) is the central square of Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine. A counter-revolution led by armed fascist forces rocked Ukraine in February 2014, when its democratically-elected president was overthrown in a violent Western-backed coup.

Putin told the CSTO that what had started in early January as peaceful protests against higher gas prices in Kazakhstan and quickly escalated into violent riots and acts of terrorism was not the first and would not be the last attempt to meddle in the region from abroad.

Stating that the Kazakh President had turned to the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation for help in the face of an ‘unprecedented challenge to its security, integrity and sovereignty,’ Putin said that the threat was caused not by spontaneous protests over fuel prices, but by the fact that ‘destructive internal and external forces had taken advantage of the situation.’

The Russian President emphasised that Russia would not allow the situation to go the same way in Kazakhstan as it has in Ukraine.

We will not allow ‘The scenario of the so-called colour revolutions to be implemented.’

With that in mind, Putin underscored the need for the CSTO to develop joint measures to counter terrorism and protect security.

Mass protests in Kazakhstan began earlier last week when residents of Zhanaozen and Aktau opposed a two-fold hike in prices for liquefied petroleum gas.

The originally peaceful protests subsequently spread to other cities, spiralling into violent clashes with the police, looting and vandalism. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a state of emergency until 19 January, inviting the CSTO peacekeeping forces to help bring the situation under control.

Putin said that following the Kazakh President’s appeal, the CSTO forces ‘in a matter of hours’ had ‘succeeded in preventing any undermining of foundations of state power in Kazakhstan, the complete degradation of the internal situation by terrorists, criminals and marauders.’

And he ‘applauded the high level of mutual trust, cooperation and readiness to swiftly spring to action demonstrated by CSTO colleagues’ – the forces of which will remain in the country ‘as long as needed’.

‘A contingent of collective peacekeeping forces of the CSTO has been sent to Kazakhstan and, I want to emphasise this, for a limited period of time, for as long as the president of Kazakhstan, the head of state, … finds possible to use it,’ he told the extraordinary session of the CSTO Collective Security Council.

Putin also proposed that, on the basis of the CSTO, further measures should be developed to jointly counter any such attempts at destructive external interference in the area.

The CTSO should never be blindsided by tragic events of the kind witnessed by Kazakhstan, and member-states ought to be ‘fully mobilised and ready to rebuff any provocations.’

Also on Monday Prime Minister Akylbek Japarov of Kyrgyzstan said that he wants an open and fair investigation into the involvement of foreigners, including Kyrgyz citizens, in protests in his country.

Japarov warned that there is a risk that the ‘terrorists who took part in the Kazakhstan riots’ could spread to CSTO member states.

However, back in Geneva at the high level security talks between Russia-US Russia-NATO and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman for a dinner on Sunday evening ahead of the main talks.

Ryabkov had previously said that these crunch talks between Russia and the United States on strategic stability concentrate on Ukraine not joining NATO.

While Moscow is ready to hear what the United States has to say regarding the non-deployment of missiles on the territory of Ukraine, constructive dialogue is possible only in the broader context of revising the decisions of the Budapest summit on Ukraine’s future in NATO, he said.

‘We will listen to what they have to say … this needs to be put into a broader context: are they ready to ensure that the decision of the 2008 … (NATO) summit is withdrawn, are they ready to give legal guarantees that this country, as well as other countries – a well-known list exists – that they will not join NATO? This is an open question,’ he said.

Earlier in the month, Washington indicated that it was prepared to discuss with Moscow certain aspects of Russia’s proposals on security guarantees, including the non-deployment of missiles on the territory of Ukraine.

But Ryabkov underscored that the US and NATO could face a worse situation for their own security if they failed to show interest in a dialogue with Russia on security guarantees.

And he deplored the fact that Washington wants to resume the work of the NATO-Russia Council on conditions that are unacceptable for Moscow.

‘They want to restore the activities of the NATO-Russia Council, but on their own terms, on the agenda that suits them, with an emphasis on the so-called deescalation, the so-called “Russian aggression” in Ukraine,’ Ryabkov said.

The discussion at the dinner with Sherman on Sunday ‘was difficult, but businesslike’.

‘We went straight to the matter of the upcoming talks. I think that tomorrow we will not waste time. I never lose my optimism, I am always guided by it,’ Ryabkov said.

Mid-December Russia released its draft proposals on security guarantees between Russia, the US and NATO which calls on both countries not to deploy forces and missiles in areas where they might be perceived as a threat to one another’s national security.

It also proposes limits on the deployment of intermediate and shorter-range missiles, and urges a halt to NATO’s eastward expansion.

The second proposal, between Russia and NATO, similarly proposes a halt in the Western bloc’s expansion. Furthermore, it contains an explicit request that Ukraine not be allowed to join the alliance. It also sets limits on the deployment of weapons and troops by NATO members to the alliance’s eastern frontiers, except in exceptional circumstances and with Russia’s agreement.

This latter draft proposal also calls for an explicit affirmation by both sides that they do not consider one another as adversaries.

The tensions between Moscow and Kiev previously resulted in media reports claiming that Russia was planning to ‘invade’ Ukraine, which the Kremlin denounced as ‘alarmism’.

The Kremlin reiterated that it has the right to relocate its own troops within its own territory, while NATO’s military activity near the country’s borders poses a threat to its security.

The official Russian-US talks on security guarantees which opened yesterday (10 January) are to be followed by a Russia-NATO Council meeting to discuss the issue tomorrow (12 January), and the Russia and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit the following day.