One strand of US-Russia negotiations has culminated
Joe Biden dictated terms about acceptable US aid to Ukraine
Some of what I’ve written about here came to fruition last week:
Russia and the US concluded their “negotiations” about Western military aid to Ukraine.
The US topped things off with a high-profile public statement of the terms.
Statements from Russia, Ukraine and the US quickly followed, all serving to ratify the core elements:
The US will give Ukraine whatever conventional weapons it pleases.
Those weapons will not be used to attack Russian territory at all.
Russia will not declare annexation of additional Ukrainian territory until the war calms down.
While these basics are quite clear, important subjects not covered include:
Any restrictions on Ukraine attacking Russian territory with other weapons.
Whether Crimea counts as “Russian territory” for the purposes of this agreement.
What new offenses Russia would have to commit for the US to relax the agreed restrictions.
What the West will or won’t do about Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, and the global famine that could soon result.
Also unknown is the extent, if any, to which public US-Russia negotiations were supported by back-channel diplomatic communications.
I posted a tweet thread accordingly, the essence of which is reproduced below.
Public negotiations can be very real
1/ This was a busy week for Ukraine-related public negotiations, with significant potential impact on the course of the war. Here’s a thread analyzing the most important part: A new agreement between Russia and the US about the limits on Western military aid to Ukraine.
2/ The US and Russia have been publicly negotiating the kinds of aid the US could provide Ukraine without unduly risking nuclear esclation. From the US standpoint those negotiations have culminated, as signalled via publication of Joe Biden’s recent essay.
3/ In calling this a “culmination”, I echo military usage of the term. The US has steadily grabbed military permissions that were not available before Russia’s invasion crimes – but last week’s events indicate the grabbing is at least temporarily finished.
4/ The US & Russia/USSR have for 60+ years had evolving agreements (tacit or otherwise) as to what kinds of conventional conflict were or weren’t OK, in the context of avoiding mutual nuclear annihilation. The US was recently empowered to unilaterally ...
5/ … change the deal, as retaliation for Russia’s massive violation of various agreements and norms. Prudence did suggest spelling out the new deal in a major public speech or article. And that’s almost exactly what the Biden Administration chose to do.
6/ (Strictly speaking, the Joe Biden essay was in itself so short as to be somewhat ambiguous. But key uncertainties were quickly clarified by a series of senior officials’ statements from the US and Ukraine alike, such as this from Antony Blinken.)
7/ The new rules allow the US to give Ukraine almost any kind of conventional weapons, but (in a deviation from what I recommended) they are not to be used to hit targets inside Russian territory. Ukraine’s territory is implied to be whatever it was before the 2014 invasion.
8/ Russia objected, but in weak, vague and/or unofficial ways. It was clear and strong, however in signalling a message of “this far but no further”. For example, Dmitry Medvedev, one of Russia’s top 4 spokespeople, called the US declaration “rational”. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russias-medvedev-calls-biden-announcement-ukraine-rocket-systems-rational-2022-05-30/
9/ But Medvedev also in essence promised direct attacks on NATO countries if the rockets, contrary to US promises, were indeed used to strike Russian territory. That’s quite the strong and clear red line. Reinforcing the message yet further, ... https://news.yahoo.com/russia-ukraine-dmitry-medvedev-us-rockets-nuclear-165640289.html
10/ … Russia also quickly announced it’s first strategic nuclear weapon maneuvers of the war, easily interpreted to mean “Fine, we admit we can’t stop you from what you’ve announced – but we’ve had enough. Don’t change the deal unilaterally yet again.” https://www.businessinsider.com/russian-nuclear-forces-running-drills-with-long-range-systems-report-2022-6
11/ Biden’s essay also disavowed any attempt to dictate to Ukraine what territory, if any, it should concede to Russia in negotiations. This reiterates long-standing policy, responds to dovish pundits – and indirectly ties into an important (non)escalatory point:
12/ While there had been some concern that Russia would announce annexation of Ukrainian territory (beyond Crimea) amidst ongoing hostilities, so as to draw a “red line” against Ukraine counteroffensives, a prompt Russian statement seemed to rule that out.
13/ So there’s a pretty clear agreement. What could up-end it? Obvious candidates include: A. Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory (with non-US weapons). B. Grain shipments/sea lanes. C. War crimes by Russia even worse than those to date. But for now, there’s a deal in place.