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Diplomatic row between Moscow and Washington over Russian military build-up in Ukraine and European security more broadly escalated. As U.S. and Russia continued negotiations during month, notably in swiss city Geneva 10 Jan, Moscow continued to demand legally binding guarantees from U.S. and NATO against Ukraine’s accession to NATO and that alliance pull back forces from Eastern Europe. Tensions persisted amid growing Russian military build-up near Ukraine (see Ukraine). U.S. Deputy Sec State Wendy Sherman 18 Jan warned “Russia could launch military attack at any time”; Russian armed forces 18 Jan arrived in Belarus ahead of joint military exercises in country due to run until 20 Feb. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 19 Jan said Russia could attack Ukraine “on very short notice” and warned again of tough sanctions; Moscow 19 Jan claimed it had no intention “to attack, strike or invade Ukraine”, while Head of Russian delegation to Vienna talks on military security and arms control Konstantin Gavrilov warned that “West either accepts our proposals or other ways will be found to ensure Russia’s security”. As Russian FM Sergey Lavrov and Blinken 21 Jan met in Geneva, Russia 21 Jan requested foreign NATO troops withdraw from Romania and Bulgaria. U.S. 24 Jan announced 8,500 soldiers in state of alert ready to be deployed on European soil and Biden same day said he would “personally sanction Russian President Putin” if Russia invades Ukraine; Kremlin next day said sanctions would not be “painful”. U.S. 26 Jan formally rejected Russia’s demand to bar Ukraine from NATO and pushed for diplomatic solution “to maintain and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
Amid continued tensions over Ukraine, U.S. and Russia prepared to begin security talks in January. Russian President Putin 1 Dec proposed negotiations on legally binding guarantees that NATO will not expand eastward. Putin 7 Dec accused NATO in phone call with U.S. President Biden of “making dangerous attempts to gain a foothold on Ukrainian territory and build up its military capabilities” near Russia’s borders; Biden next day proposed NATO-Russia meeting. Head of Russian delegation to Vienna negotiations on military security and arms control Konstantin Gavrilov 21 Dec reiterated Moscow’s determination not to allow NATO infrastructure in Ukraine and Georgia, though plans for such infrastructure not under way at time of writing. NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 21 Dec declared openness for “meaningful dialogue”; Russian FM Sergei Lavrov same day indicated U.S.-Russia talks will take place in Jan 2022; EU and U.S. next day agreed “that any discussion about European security will happen in coordination and with participation” of EU. U.S. Assistant Sec State Karen Donfried 23 Dec expected talks to “take place in January”. Biden and Putin 30 Dec held phone call to discuss European security.
Moscow and Washington voiced concerns about hypersonic missiles; senior officials held first strategic stability dialogue meeting. Russian defence ministry 19 July reported successful launch of Zirkon hypersonic missile; U.S. Department of Defence same day called weapon “potentially destabilising” and warned that it is “compatible with nuclear weapons”. Russian embassy in Washington D.C. next day warned U.S. against deploying the as yet non-existent American hypersonic missiles in Europe, which it said would be “extremely destabilising”. U.S. Deputy Sec of State Wendy Sherman and Russian deputy defence minister 28 July met in Geneva, Switzerland, for start of U.S.-Russia bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue, established following June summit between Presidents Biden and Putin; Putin’s spokesman same day said it was “very positive sign” that talks were taking place.
U.S. and Russian presidents held face-to-face summit in Geneva, agreeing to continue arms control dialogue and return ambassadors. U.S. President Biden and Russia’s President Putin 16 June met in Swiss city Geneva for first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office to discuss diverse issues, including arms control, cybersecurity, Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and Arctic; Biden described meeting as “good and positive” while Putin said sides “will begin consultations on the entire complex of interactions on the diplomatic track”. Sole document signed by both parties during summit related to strategic stability; sides committed to “principle that there can be no winners in a nuclear war”, with bilateral dialogue on arms control set to commence in due course. Leaders also agreed to return ambassadors to their respective posts. Separately, Moscow 18 June announced it would withdraw from Open Skies Treaty – multilateral accord permitting signatories to undertake non-military reconnaissance flights over other countries – on 18 Dec, stating that U.S. formal withdrawal from treaty in Nov 2020 “grossly violated the balance of interests, rights and obligations” of signatories.
Moscow recalled its ambassador to U.S. following remarks by President Biden. U.S. President Biden 16 March said he believed Russian President Putin is “a killer” and Putin would “pay a price” for interfering in U.S. elections; Moscow next day recalled its ambassador for emergency consultations and to assess U.S.-Russian relations. In following days, Russian officials, members of ruling United Russia party, governors and members of parliament condemned Biden’s remarks.
U.S. and Russia extended nuclear arms control treaty New START. After their first telephone call on 26 Jan, U.S. President Biden and Russian President Putin agreed to extend New START for five years until 5 Feb 2026. Meanwhile, Russia 15 Jan began its withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty – multilateral accord permitting signatories to undertake non-military reconnaissance flights over other countries – citing U.S.’s withdrawal in Nov 2020 that had “significantly upended the balance of interests of signatory states”; formal withdrawal could take up to six months.
U.S. formally withdrew from Open Skies treaty. After announcing its intention to withdraw in May, U.S. 22 Nov formally withdrew from Open Skies treaty – multilateral accord permitting signatories to undertake non-military reconnaissance flights over other countries – citing Russian imposition of limits in violation of treaty; Russia 22 Nov vowed tough response if remaining parties share information with U.S. In rare incident, Moscow 24 Nov accused U.S. Navy destroyer of violating its maritime border in Sea of Japan as Russian destroyer threatened to ram U.S. ship; U.S. rejected claim it had been expelled from area.
U.S. suspension of 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and Russian rhetoric regarding possible deployments of new weapons marked further deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations and raised concerns about future of arms control. U.S. 1 Feb said it was suspending its obligations under INF starting 2 Feb, giving Russia six months to return to “real and verifiable” compliance before U.S. ultimate withdrawal from INF. Washington earlier announced plans of withdrawal in Oct 2018, arguing Russia has been developing 9M729 missile system in violation of INF, and amid years of mutual accusations of non-compliance. President Putin 2 Feb announced Moscow would follow suit and in his 20 Feb state of the nation address promised deployment of new and powerful missiles targeting U.S. and European countries, although only in response to any U.S. deployments of intermediate-range missiles on European continent; NATO accused Russia of “unacceptable” threat and called on Russia for full compliance.
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