Diplomatic negotiations are definitely not a spectator sport. You could think of discussions between Russian diplomats and their NATO and American counterparts as equivalent to Baseball’s winter meetings, where general managers haggle over trades and conspire to hold down player salaries. More like “Inside Baseball.”
The recent talks extend the frets that animated diplomacy in the inter-war period in the last century. Those talks produced a catchy slogan that resonates today: “Who wants to die for Danzig?”
Still a good question?
The phrase originated in the title of an article (“Mourir pour Dantzig?”) by the French Socialist writer Marcel Déat, published on May 4, 1939, in the Parisian newspaper L’Œuvre (journal). The article concerned one of the Nazi German ultimatums to the Second Polish Republic, demanding a transfer of control over Danzig (aka Gdansk — then a Free City with weak administrative ties to Poland).
As bullyboy of the day, Hitler was determined to overturn the military and territorial provisions of the Versailles Treaty and include ethnic Germans in the Reich. In the lead-up to his invasion of Poland, Hitler demanded the annexation of the Free City of Danzig to Germany and extraterritorial rail access for Germany across the “Polish Corridor,” the Polish frontier to East Prussia in the spring of 1939.
Connoisseurs of diplomacy and the confusions of Eastern European geopolitics will recognize haunting similarities. Vladimir Putin, like Hitler, is a sore loser with a grudge against recent history. Putin’s sore point is not the Treaty of Versailles but the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Putin, like Hitler, wants to turn back the clock. He pretends to ethnic solidarity with Russians in Ukraine. He borrowed a page from Hitler’s book to demand a” land bridge” from Russia to Crimea.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Warns: Europe Moving Closer to War
Negotiations to defuse tensions with Putin are so bleak that Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau publicly admitted that Europe is closer to war with Russia than any time in the 30 years that have passed since the Soviet Union’s demise.
Anyone who has been paying attention to Putin since he came to power knows his desire to re-incorporate the post-Soviet Republics as subjects of the Russian Federation. His long-term objective is undoubtedly the re-constitution of a bigger unified Russia under his control. He views the demise of the Soviet Union to be the biggest post-World War II tragedy.
Nonetheless, his short-term ambition after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 is to establish a land bridge between Russia and Crimea through Ukrainian territory. The Biden administration may be full of sports fans, but I doubt they know the game well enough to match up with Putin. The Biden administration focuses on Putin’s insistence for assurances that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO.
The seeming failure of Biden to understand the basic needs of Russia is causing panic in Ukraine, where a recent poll shows 61 percent of its citizens want to join NATO. The threat of events running out of control also increases the desire of both Swedish and Finnish citizens to have their nations join NATO.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s laser focuses on not surrendering the right of Ukraine to join NATO is reckless. Instead of focusing on Russia’s need for a land bridge from Russia and Crimea and the end of the sanction imposed by the United States, Europe, and Ukraine should focus on three negotiations focused on diffusing what could become a third world war…
1: Russia has trillions of natural gas and oil that Ukraine and Europe need.
2: All countries involved and China would like to significantly reduce short, midrange, and long-range nuclear weapons.
3: A comprehensive cyber and space pact that would prevent a conflict that might wipe humanity off the face of the earth from being initiated.
Recalling the Occasional Wisdom of Donald J. Trump
“Wouldn’t it be better for the United States to have friendly relations with Russia?” former President Trump had said on occasion.
Trump’s repeated rhetorical question was completely valid and on-point. The only question not answered during Trump’s term as president was how to do it without weakening the United States, NATO, and its allies’ balance.
As Biden addresses Putin about Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine’s border, most Americans may be oblivious to this exercise of “Inside Baseball.” But in Zhongnanhai, the former imperial garden in the Imperial City, Beijing, and Jade Spring Hill, to the west of the Summer Palace in Beijing, China’s paramount leader, Xi Jinping, follows the play-by-play of Western negotiations with Putin with avid attention.
Xi, too, has a geopolitical grudge in his neighborhood, this time over Taiwan. The microchip-rich island that Beijing says is and will always be a part of China. Xi, like Putin, is concerned that a former part of his country’s dominion is becoming more allied with the United States and its allies.
The current negotiations underway could be an opportunity to reach a better outcome than Britain, France and Poland managed to achieve through negotiations with Hitler before the outbreak of World War II. To gain such a result, the Biden administration needs to combine creative thicken with delicate judgment.
Russia might be offered a deal in which it pays Ukraine for Crimea over the next 50 or 100 years in the form of gas and oil. As part of the deal, in exchange for Crimea and a landbridge lease over Ukrainian territory for 100 years, similar to the one that existed between China and the United Kingdom, and the cessation of all military hostilities between Russia and their proxy forces in Ukraine. And all sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies since 2014 could be negotiated.
Guarantees between Russia, NATO, and the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could include a permanent rollback of military forces on all borders—a demilitarized zone.
The time to explore a transactional treaty between Russia, NATO, and OSCE with a chair at the negotiating table is now.
Without naming Russia in his opening speech to envoys from the 57 OSCE members, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau laid out the current danger referring to the rising tensions in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova, all of which are embroiled in active or dormant hostilities with Russia. Rau emphasized the enormous threat in his statement: “It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years.”
“For several weeks, we have been faced with the prospect of a major military escalation in Eastern Europe,” he said, launching his country’s year-long chairmanship of the region’s largest security organization.”
Rau reported no breakthrough at the meeting between Russia and western diplomats this past week.
In an interview, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told RTVI (Russian Television International) that Russian military specialists were providing options to Putin if the situation around Ukraine negotiations failed.
Right now, NATO and the United States are taking the position in the aftermath of their meetings in Geneva on Monday, and in Brussels, on Wednesday, there is a “dead-end or difference of approaches” that can’t be overcome. Secretary of State Antony Blinkin sees no reason to sit down again in the coming days to re-start the same discussions. That’s a huge mistake by the Biden administration.
An offer of a transactional settlement that ends the existing sanctions against Russia that ended the Crimean Cold War in 2014 should be explored. China will support a Russian invasion of Ukraine. So, Russia is not alone. A war would mean the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers and innocent citizens.
The Russian economy is in shambles and heading off a cliff. Putin has every incentive to negotiate a win-win deal with Europe, Ukraine, and the United States. To get a win-win deal, the United States and its allies have to bring an offer to the negotiating table that makes NATO expansion less threatening and offers Putin a way to turn around his nation’s economy.
A possibility that could be explored would be to dust off “The Partnership for Peace,” initially proposed by President Bill Clinton to Boris Yeltsin in 1993. This was surfaced as a way to include Russia as a “full participant in the future security of Europe.”
Another point in Warren Christopher’s initiative to alleviate Russia 20 years ago was a promise that nuclear weapons would not be stationed in former Warsaw Pact countries as part of NATO’s expansion. Indeed, Yeltsin was told that the U.S. would push building the “Partnership for Peace” rather than enlarging NATO.
When you review all the tittle-tattle of U.S.-Russian diplomacy (Inside Baseball) during the Yeltsin years, it is pretty obvious that the Russians could feel that they were misled.
For example, on Jan. 31, 1990, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher stated what NATO must do is state unequivocally that whatever happens in the Warsaw Pact that “there would be no expansion of NATO territory eastwards, that is to say, closer to the borders of the Soviet Union.”
During a visit to Moscow in February 1990, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker told Gorbachev that “there would be no extension of NATO’s forces one inch to the east.”
Now that we have the benefit of hindsight—that promise turned out to be remote.
Russian connoisseurs of diplomacy are well aware of what Russians take to have been the U.S. and NATO promises not to expand NATO to the east. It will take creative diplomacy to overcome their doubts.
Time is of the essence.
Russian Ambassador Alexander Lukashevich told the OSCE: “If we don’t hear a constructive response to our proposals within a reasonable timeframe and an aggressive line of behavior towards Russia continues, we will be forced to draw appropriate conclusions and take all necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security.”
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, slammed the new sanctions bill released by U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday, which would target senior Russian government and military leaders, including Putin, as well as important financial institutions if Russia attacked Ukraine.
Peskov said sanctioning Putin would be equivalent to severing relations.
“We view the appearance of such documents and statements extremely negatively against the background of an ongoing series of negotiations, albeit unsuccessful ones.”
The vitriolic rhetoric and back-and-forth threats must end. All countries engaged must not allow a verbal war to grow into World War III.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.