After the failed virtual talks with the U.S. President, when no agreement was reached at all, the Russian leader decided to raise the geopolitical price and demanded written legal guarantees from NATO for the security of Russia.
On 17 December, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia published a draft of the agreement between Russia, the United States and NATO, which calls for ‘non-extension of the Alliance to the east, which means not accepting any post-Soviet republics, renouncing any military activities on the territory of Ukraine, as it is the case for the rest of eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, not deploying nuclear-tipped missiles in Europe, and not conducting large-scale military exercises close to the borders of Russia.
After the publication, a new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Ryabkov directly threatened the West with a military-technical response if it did not accept the proposal.
On the eve of a press conference in Sochi after a meeting with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were cut off from Georgia in 2008, his boss Sergey Lavrov, when asked whether the meeting had discussed counteractions in case Georgia is admitted to NATO, he replied that Moscow would see the expansion of the Alliance as “crossing of the red lines”.
President Vladimir Putin told the panel of the Ministry of Defence on the same day that while American assurances could not be trusted, Moscow would demand more than just verbal assurances, and that Russia would be ready for a military-technical response if the infrastructure of NATO did move further east and emerge in Ukraine.
One of the options is the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus.
On 24 November, Fyodor Lukyanov, a Kremlin adviser and chairman of the Russian International Affairs Council, wrote on his social media site that Russia would attack Ukraine in the event of an Alliance expansion into the country, arguing that Moscow would have to draw new “red lines”.
To make it short, when/if the non-public talks that have been going on since July reached a dead-end, Moscow decided to show its hand and remembered the geopolitical “red lines”.
In turn, NATO has reiterated its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and told that aggression against Ukraine will be costly for Moscow, with massive geopolitical (as well as economic) implications.
On 4 December, the Reuters news agency quoted US President Joe Biden’s reaction to the statement of Vladimir Putin that expansion of NATO into Ukraine could be a “red line” for Moscow, and that he had known about actions of Russia for a long time and would not accept any “lines”.
The Kremlin propagandist Sergei Markov made an interesting statement about a real support for Vladimir Putin at home and abroad. Although for some people the President of Russia is like a fishbone in the throat, and no one can or will do anything for him, it is appropriate for the West to return to reality, where Vladimir Putin is like a hero from the fairy-tale in the bloom of his physical and intellectual powers. The ultimatum means that the Russian leader is fed up with the insolence of the West. More or less, take control by yourselves.
It is a logical conclusion when Vladimir Putin, in almost every public appearance, reminds his compatriots of “Russia, the besieged fortress that “the enemy is outside the gates, but he will not defeat us, because we have the best weaponry”.
For example, in his annual address to the National Assembly on 1 March 2018, the President spent almost half (45 minutes) of his time to a new and, according to him, insurmountable weapon – submarine drones, a missile complex that can track a target at the speed of a meteorite, and an intercontinental ballistic missile that is capable of striking any target on earth.
Since then, Vladimir Putin has publicly repeated the statement at least twice that latest weaponry of Russia is insurmountable.
Another thesis of the President of Russia: that “We (Russians? – A.S.) will go to paradise as martyrs, and they (non-Russians? – A.S.) will simply die.” He made this statement while speaking about the threat of nuclear conflict at a session of the Kremlin-backed Valdai Discussion Club in October 2018.
In the event of a geopolitical stalemate, or to put it simply, a dead-end, the issue of geopolitical “red lines” is being raised as a tactical and highly unreliable option, and the President of Russia is not the first and not the only one to do so.
Among the approximately 3,440,000 top-ranking links associated with the phrase “red lines” on the Internet search engine Google (result of 21 December), almost exclusively deal with the territory planning or drawing of the desirable boundaries in various spheres of life, such as social relations, business, ethics, etc. Not a word about geopolitics “yet”.
The English term “Red Line” had actually 4.330,000.000 links on the same day, but at least in the top 100, the geopolitical component did not dominate the top 100.
But one can recall the President of France Emmanuel Macron, who on 23 September, in his address to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, called the use of the Novichiok war poison to poison the Russian opposition politician Aleksey Navalny “crossing a red line”.
Now we can also say that the geopolitical component of the set of “red line” links in Lithuanian Google version starts to increase after about the first fifty (Brexit, the Astravets nuclear power plant, the version of the occupation of the Baltics in the 1940s that was promoted by the President of Russia, the North Korean nuclear programme…).
In the Lithuanian Google version, we will also find, in about the third top ten links, the ominous statement of the Belarusian dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka that protesters (according to the dictator, protesters loitering in the streets) in Belarus have crossed the “red line” in many places. The “masses” have become radicalised and a terrorist war against Belarus must be prevented.
By the way, in the interpretation of the war author by the Belarusian authoritarianism, Poland and Lithuania are first and foremost.
Emanuel Macron and his speechwriters seem to know that the concept of “red lines” is appropriate because it is relevant. The geopolitical problems of “’lines” in the 21st century are abundant and varied, and the diplomacy of “red lines” is not simple.
On the other hand, who said that we live in a harmonious world, a world that balances the relations between people and states on the basis of the laws of harmony?
The concept of “red lines” in politics derives from the so-called “red lines” agreement on oil ventures in the last days of the Ottoman Empire in July 1928 between the British Iran, France and two U.S. oil companies.
At the time of business negotiations, the borders of the Empire were already unclear, and when the negotiations got stuck and the threat of non-signing arose, the problem was solved by a British businessman Calouste Gulbenkian, who took a red pencil and arbitrarily crossed them out. This meant that those who crossed the lines could not be sure of what is called the “assured security”.
Since then, “crossing the red line” has meant crossing a line worldwide, beyond which irreversible consequences can be expected. These were subtly dangerous lines, because crossing them, at least theoretically, carried the risk of imminent and severe retribution, which is why they were usually set at the highest level.
The 21st century, as the age of geopolitics, at least for the time being, points to the appropriateness of discussing the subject of “red lines” as a geopolitically painful issue, especially in the light of the proliferation of precedents in which ignoring the “lines” leads to nothing, and an ominous rule that used to be in place is no longer working.
An example is the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad against the civilian population. When the nerve agent killed over a thousand civilians near Damascus on 21 August 2013, the U.S. President Barack Obama hesitated to launch even a limited military strike against targets in Syria, even though he had previously warned Damascus not to cross the “red line” and use chemical weapons against its own citizens.
The planet is “still reeling” from the consequences of the last indecision. On 8 February 2018, the U.S. Department of Defence announced its support for a UN proposal to declare a one-month ceasefire to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to areas besieged by the Moscow-backed Syrian government army. No one was willing to observe the ceasefire and the killing continued.
It is likely that if Barack Obama had not hesitated and had kept his promise on his “red line” threat, the situation would have been at least slightly different.
We are used to reports of dangerous manoeuvres of Russian warplanes in close proximity to NATO aircraft or warships over the Baltic and Black Seas. After all, there are also “red lines” in case a pilot fails to manage his controls and nerves and a collision occurs.
In 2018, in the midst of the disputes at the Minsk talks of the so-called Tripartite Contact Group on settlement of the conflict in the east of Ukraine, representatives of the Moscow-backed separatists provocatively questioned Irina Gerashchenko, then Ukraine’s representative and First Deputy Speaker of the Rada, the politician pointed out to the other participants (including the Russian separatist mentors) that these were diplomatic negotiations, not a meeting of bandits, and informed the Minsk police of the “red line” crossed presenting a report.
It should also be recalled that the Minsk talks of the Contact Group of the Tripartite Contact Group on the Russian-induced military conflict in the east of Ukraine have made no progress since 2018, just as the thuggish insolence of the Moscow-backed separatists has gone unanswered.
We will have to live with the latest (hottest?) “red lines”. Could it be that the President of Russia is desperately trying to inflict the version of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” on the West – hoping to use a formal document to ensure preservation of the current Moscow regime?
It can also be seen as a manifestation of geopolitical naivety.
However, we have the last piece of news also related to the “red lines”. On 21 December, the U.S. State Department announced that it would advise U.S. citizens to refrain from travelling to certain areas of Ukraine, not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of probable aggression of Russia.
It might be the case that with the latest “red lines” we are entering a particularly fragile and dangerous period of time.