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14 January 2022

With Russian forces still on Ukraine’s border, can transatlantic allies hang together?

A week's worth of talks involving Russia, Nato, the US and the EU appear to have changed little.

By Emily Tamkin

The Biden administration has taken great pains to make clear that, in dealing with Russia and its build-up of forces on Ukraine and demands toward Nato in eastern Europe, the United States would not be separated from its allies and partners. Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, stressed last week that he understood that part of Russia’s strategy is to divide transatlantic allies, but Sullivan insisted “that dog won’t hunt”.

Still, the United States did begin the week with bilateral, not multilateral, talks with Russia in Geneva, though they were followed by a meeting of the Nato-Russia council and then the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Sullivan may have said that the administration’s north star was “nothing about Europe without Europe,” but the bilateral talks were indeed about Europe without Europeans in the room. Meanwhile, there are reports that Europeans fear what would happen to their own economies if Russia were to face sanctions over an invasion of Ukraine. It remains unclear whether Europe will manage to speak with one voice. 

[See also: What will Russia risk to invade Ukraine?]

The talks themselves were inconclusive. Afterwards, Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister said there was no reason to think that things would escalate, and that the Americans took the Russian proposals seriously. Meanwhile, Wendy Sherman, the US deputy secretary of state, said that the United States would continue to push back on “non-starters”, like Russia’s insistence that Nato must not admit or have security cooperation with Ukraine, and the demand that Nato remove all troops from allied countries that border Russia, such as the Baltics. “We will not forgo bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States. And we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about Nato without Nato,” Sherman told reporters. 

Similarly, after the Nato-Russia council meeting on Wednesday 12 January, the Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko said discussions were deep and honest, while the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that their differences would be difficult to bridge.  

At time of writing, then, the week appears to end largely where it began: with the United States insisting that it is acting in concert with Nato and Europe but having spoken to Russia without them; with Russia making proposals the United States and Nato will not accept; and with Ukraine listening and watching as Moscow demands from others a veto over Kyiv’s fate.

[See also: Is Vladimir Putin preparing for war?]

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