It is possible that Mr. Putin’s essence in this conflict is simple: that he wants to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and obtain assurances that the United States and NATO will never place weapons offensives that threaten Russia’s security on Ukrainian territory.
On these two questions, it would seem that there is a commercial space. While the US says it will never abandon NATO’s ‘open door’ policy – meaning each nation is free to decide whether to join the Western alliance – the reality is clear. : Ukraine is so corrupt and its understanding of democracy is so tenuous that no one expects it to be accepted as a member of NATO in the next ten or twenty years.
On this point, Mr. Biden was clear.
“The likelihood of Ukraine joining NATO in the short term is not very likely,” he told a news conference on Wednesday. “So there’s room to work if he wants to do that.”
It seemed like an open invitation to offer Russia some kind of assurance that for a decade, two or maybe a quarter of a century Kiev’s NATO membership was out of the question. But the Biden administration has drawn a red line by granting Mr Putin a veto over which nations can join NATO.
More complex is the negotiation of the inverse problem: how the United States and NATO operate in Ukraine. Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the United States and NATO countries have been reluctant to provide Ukraine with what the West calls defensive weapons, including the ability to eliminate tanks and Russian planes. This flow has accelerated in recent weeks.
To hear Mr. Putin, these weapons are more offensive than defensive – and Russian disinformation campaigns have suggested that Washington’s real goal is to put nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Administration officials say the United States has no such plans — and some sort of deal should be, as one official put it, “the easy part of this,” as long as the Russia is also willing to withdraw its intermediate-range weapons.
Overthrow the European order
Mr Putin has made it clear that he wants to restore what he calls Russia’s “sphere of influence” in the region – essentially a return to the Cold War order, before Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agree in 1997 that former Soviet states and Warsaw bloc nations could choose whether or not to seek NATO membership. Since then, the alliance has roughly doubled in size.