ANALYSIS - Russia, US Have Good Chance Of Agreeing On Intermediate, Short-Range Missiles - Experts

ANALYSIS - Russia, US Have Good Chance of Agreeing on Intermediate, Short-Range Missiles - Experts

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 15th January, 2022) Russia and the United States have a good chance to reach an agreement on the placement of intermediate and short-range missiles at the security talks, while progress on the NATO membership of third countries is unlikely, experts told Sputnik.

Moscow and Washington launched talks on security guarantees in January to ease growing tensions in Europe and avoid further escalation. Russia has presented its draft proposals, insisting that NATO not expanding further eastward is non-negotiable. The US and the bloc, in turn, refused to discuss the issue, saying the sides should focus the topics of arms control and reducing the scope of military drills.

The two countries have so far failed to understand the threat perceptions of the other, leading to a temporary standstill in negotiations, Marc Finaud, head of the arms proliferation office at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said. He noted that given the potential risks of escalation, the sides must come to an agreement and end a "dangerous vicious circle."

"NATO responds to what it perceives as threats from Russia, e.g. on Poland or the Baltic States, and Russia, feeling threatened, reacts by initiatives or postures that aggravate the Western perception, especially around Ukraine," the expert explained.

Russia and the US have spent a lot of "precious time" addressing mutual perceptions and allowing "frozen conflicts" to persist since the fall of the Soviet Union, Finaud added. However, the newly launched security talks give the two a chance to resume work on arms control in Europe, the expert believes.

"The US withdrawal and the demise of the treaty (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, INF) created a dangerous vacuum that needs to be filled with a new regime. It can be based on the INF Treaty but there will be obstacles to have it approved by the US Senate, so another solution can be a political agreement with continued reciprocal moratoria of deployment," Finaud said.

At the next round of talks, the Russian and US delegations can be expected to take tough stances to appease their respective domestic constituents, but both understand that mutual concessions and diplomacy are required "for everyone's benefit," the expert said.

Nikolai Sokov, a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, agrees that it is unlikely that the sides will make any visible progress on the issues of NATO non-expansion and the membership of Ukraine and Georgia in the alliance, but this does not mean that no agreement can be reached on other matters, in particular the INF Treaty.

"It is possible to reach an agreement on practical issues that could alleviate tensions such as reduction of concentration of forces, non-deployment of various weapons, limitation of exercises, etc. Whether Russia will accept that option remains to be seen," he said.

A INF-type agreement is possible, and Moscow proposed its revival in 2019 but was ignored by the West at the time, according to Sokov. The expert thinks the new deal will not be a copy of the old one, since both sides want different things from it - for example, Russia wants to address air- and sea-launched missiles, while the US is interested in banning nuclear missiles.

Another point of uncertainty is whether some of the US' allies that are skeptical about the talks will allow Washington to come up with counter-proposals interesting to Moscow, according to the expert. If the US and NATO fail to acknowledge that Russia has the right to make own security decisions like the West does and the talks fall through, the world will likely see a slowly developing arms race and greater tension, he said.

"If NATO does not ask Russia, there is no reason why Russia should ask NATO. If serious dialogue does not begin and NATO continues the present policy, Russia will certainly respond one way or the other, but the most important feature of that response is that it will make decisions unilaterally and pay no attention to how these decisions are perceived in the West," Sokov warned.

If the US and Russia fail to make progress and tensions escalate, neither side will emerge as a winner, Thomas E. Shea, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, told Sputnik.

"Russia has had a better hand in this game, up to now. America has produced decisive leaders in the past, but America is now hampered by a divided population, political stalemate and competing crises, including Covid, climate change, and the rise of China. But America is stronger than Russia, militarily, economically, and diplomatically," he said, adding that it is doubtful that Putin or Biden will be ready for the outcome of an armed confrontation, especially if nuclear weapons are used.