The drama now playing out on Ukraine’s border and in the meetings between the US, NATO, and Russia is, in reality, a giant exercise in disinformation, ever since the publication of Russia’s proposed treaty agreements – one with NATO and the other with the US.
These so-called ‘treaties’ essentially claim Ukraine is about to join NATO in the immediate future – but this is not about to happen, and Vladimir Putin knows it. The 1995 study on NATO enlargement makes it clear the existence of ongoing territorial disputes effectively rules out the possibility of an aspiring state joining NATO and – despite promises made to Ukraine at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 – this has not changed.
By annexing Crimea and supporting the separatists in Donbas, Russia has created conditions to make Ukraine’s accession to NATO all but impossible. And so by insisting on guarantees against further NATO enlargement – which his own actions are preventing – Putin is using classic disinformation tactics to justify the build-up of troops on Ukraine’s border.
Claiming the US-Russia document is a treaty gives it a legitimacy it does not deserve. The way it has been tabled goes against all accepted conventions on what a treaty is, and how to negotiate one. Instead, this is a set of demands, and the meetings between the US and Russia are not negotiations but discussions – as underlined by US secretary of state Antony Blinken during his Geneva press conference.
Lies and contradictions
During his own Geneva press conference, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Russia is ‘not claiming spheres of influence’. And yet, only six months previously, Putin published his infamous article on the supposed historical unity of Ukrainians and Russians in which he claims both are part of a ‘single spiritual and political sphere’.
Such contradictions are compounded by Lavrov insisting Russia poses no threat to Ukraine, despite massing more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders with significant military hardware. And he alluded to the OSCE principles which say no nation should strengthen its security at the expense of another nation. But this is exactly what Russia is doing by threatening to invade Ukraine – the definition of gaslighting.
In addition, Lavrov’s attempts to humiliate his US interlocutor by accusing him of engaging in a contest to see ‘who is stronger and who has the bigger whatever’ shows behaviour reminiscent of his deliberate public shaming of the European Union (EU) high representative for foreign affairs Josep Borrell on his trip to Moscow.
This all begs the question as to whether it is possible to meaningfully discuss anything when one party appears to see international diplomatic fora as an opportunity to insult, humiliate, and blackmail its counterparts, and also pretends to exist in a parallel reality.
Former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul suggests the US and NATO could make similar demands to Russia – return Crimea to Ukraine, withdraw all troops from Moldova, restore the territorial integrity of both Ukraine and Georgia, and remove all tactical weapons from Kaliningrad.