U.S. and Russian officials will meet for a two-party “strategic security dialogue” in January, just prior to a pair of broader meetings that will include European allies eager to deter a wider war between Russia and Ukraine, as the Kremlin demands a contraction of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
“We have sought to unite the alliance behind two tracks: deterrence and diplomacy,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday. “We are unified, as a NATO alliance, on the consequences Russia would face if it moves on Ukraine. But we're also unified in our willingness to engage in principled diplomacy with Russia.”
That Jan. 10 meeting could portend an easing of the geopolitical pressure that has built in recent months as Russian forces amassed around Ukrainian borders. Yet it also puts European officials in the position of awaiting an update on the results of a meeting that could affect their security — albeit one that will be followed by a convocation of the NATO-Russia council, on Jan. 12, and the Jan. 13 assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“Europeans will be [at the meeting] on Jan. 12 ... but still having just U.S.-Russia meeting raises some eyebrows,” a European official said.
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President Joe Biden’s team pledged that they would refuse to discuss “European security without Europeans in the room,” as a senior administration official put it on Dec. 17, and the format of the talks has symbolic significance for all sides.
“Russians don’t care about the substance of the meeting (unless the West would do unthinkable appeasement),” the European official said. “Their primary goal is to have a bilateral meeting with the U.S. on European security and escalate [the] Ukrainian question to such a level so that the West would slow Ukraine’s integration process into the West.”
Price sought to allay any emerging anxiety on that score — despite the impending bilateral discussion.
“The principle is inviolable — nothing about them, without them,” he told reporters during a telephonic State Department press briefing. “Of course, this is a channel that has existed for some time. It is a bilateral channel with the Russian Federation to discuss issues of strategic stability — issues that are of great importance to the United States but also great importance to our NATO allies. And so in the course of the conduct of the strategic stability talks, we have always fully and thoroughly briefed our allies after the fact to make very clear what it is we are seeking to achieve.”
A pair of senior Russian officials hastened to define the “bilateral Russian-American consultations” as a step in a negotiating process between the former Cold War rivals.
“Today, we are focusing our efforts on achieving maximum efficiency in asserting this policy line, standing up for our interests, and rejecting unilateral concessions that are not rooted in the balance of interests,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday. “This is the spirit that guides us when preparing for negotiations, primarily with the United States.”
Price underscored that the subsequent NATO and OSCE meetings would demonstrate “that the United States is joined at the hip with our NATO Allies, with our Ukrainian partners, and with our broader European allies and partners as well.” And he cast the Jan. 10 dialogue as a not-unusual exercise in preparing for those talks.
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“Our charge in all of this is to determine where there may be some potential for dialogue and discussion and some areas that merit that discussion — again, together with our allies and partners,” he said.