U.S., NATO allies reject major Russian demands, offer different compromise

The United States and NATO on Wednesday rejected Russia's demands that Ukraine never be allowed to become a member of NATO, and that the expansion of NATO since 1997 be rolled back. Russian officials said they would study the written response they received, but blamed the West for taking aggressive actions and said it will take the necessary retaliatory measures. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, today, the U.S. submitted a written document that responds to Russian demands over Ukraine and NATO's future. The document rejected Russia's core demand that Ukraine never join NATO, but suggested other diplomatic off-ramps to try to defuse the crisis over Ukraine.

    Nick Schifrin has more on the day's developments.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In Moscow today, an effort to save diplomacy. U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan left the Foreign Affairs Ministry after delivering a written document that Secretary of State Antony Blinken said reiterated a core U.S.-NATO principle.

    Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State: I can't be more clear. NATO's door is open, remains open. And that is our commitment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But that is the very commitment Russia demands the U.S. break, as it deploys equipment and 100,000 troops to Ukraine's border, including new video today of fighter jets in Belarus, to Ukraine's north, and ships off Crimea, to Ukraine's south.

    Back in December, Russia demanded that NATO close its open door to other European countries, including Ukraine, and roll back all its forces and weapons in Europe to 1997 levels. Giving into that demand would rewrite decades of U.S. and NATO policy and the map.

    In 1949, NATO's Eastern border was Italy. By 1997, it had added four more countries, for a total of 16. Since then, in five rounds of expansion, it's grown to 30 countries, including those on Russia's border.

    In 2008, NATO said Ukraine and Georgia would become future members.

  • Antony Blinken:

    There is no change. There will be no change.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But what the U.S. is offering, mutual limits on Eastern European exercises like these in Poland and missile deployments by reviving the defunct Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, that banned an entire class of nuclear weapons.

  • Antony Blinken:

    We also do lay out areas where we believe that, together, we could actually advance security for everyone, including for Russia, the placement of offensive missile systems in Ukraine, military exercises and maneuvers in Europe, potential arms control measures, greater transparency.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But even before Blinken spoke, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that wasn't good enough.

  • Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister (through translator):

    If there is no constructive answer, and if the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow, as President Putin has repeatedly said, will take the necessary retaliatory measures.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. and NATO are also trying to deter war by reinforcing NATO's eastern flank with European jets, European soldiers under NATO command, and as many as 8,500 U.S. troops.

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg:

  • Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General:

    We have plans in place that we can activate, execute on very short notice. So what we have done over the last weeks is to increase readiness.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    To reassure allies, the administration is working to replace Russian natural gas that Europe relies on in case Russia cuts exports. But the U.S. admits that, ultimately, whether diplomacy lives another day will be decided by Vladimir Putin.

  • Antony Blinken:

    The document is with them, and the ball's in their court.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For more on the confrontation with Russia and where things stand, we turn to Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who has held a number of foreign policy-making positions at the State Department and on the National Security Council staff during Republican administrations.

    Richard Haass, back to the "NewsHour."

    So, the U.S. has sent its written responses today. Why is the Biden administration rejecting Russia's key public demands?

    Richard Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations: Well, Article 10 of the NATO Alliance talks about the openness of the alliance for other members.

    And we can't be in a situation where Russia can essentially determine who gets to be a NATO member or not. That's the province of the alliance. That's in the sovereign decision-making right of the United States and its 29 allies.

    So, simply — and let me say one other thing, Nick. The Russians know that. What we don't know is whether their positions represent an opening bid, from which they're prepared to negotiate and compromised, or whether this is essentially setting up diplomacy to fail.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, those negotiations and the compromises the U.S. wants to talk about include limiting military exercises in Europe, restricting missile deployments, and new arms control agreements.

    Is that the right approach, do you think, that the Biden administration is taking?

  • Richard Haass:

    Well, I think it's all fine. To that, you could probably add negotiations dealing with the Russian presence in Eastern Ukraine.

    The real question, again, is whether it's enough for Mr. Putin. He has manufactured this crisis. He's placed 100,000 troops on the border. For him to walk away, if he will take the off-ramp, means that he has to think there's enough in it to save face to talk to his own people to tell the world that he didn't climb down because he was pressured.

    So I simply don't know, I don't think any of us know whether this will be enough for him to justify a change in his behavior.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Secretary Blinken today stressed allied unity.

    But, as you know, there are differences. Germany, for example, is blocking weapons going to Ukraine and refusing to threaten to cut off the pipeline Nord Stream 2 in case Russia invades Ukraine. Is NATO really unified?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Richard Haass:

    No, but then it wasn't unified during the Cold War either.

    There were always tensions within the alliance about how to deal with the Soviet Union, about the wisdom of going ahead or not going ahead with various military deployments. So we're seeing similar things now about how to deal with Russia. The Germans are obviously very skittish. Their energy dependency simply adds to it.

    There's also simply a lot of history here and a lot of geography here. And, not surprisingly, in a country — in an alliance of 30 countries, you have a real range of opinions. And that's part of the challenge facing the Biden administration. Putin knows that.

    And it's one of the reasons he might — emphasize the word might — think about a scenario where he uses a limited amount of force, because, the more limited the scenario, the deeper the cracks are likely to be within NATO.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    One of the challenges that Putin faces also is the calendar.

    And, this morning, we heard from the deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, who suggested that Vladimir Putin would not launch an invasion during the Olympics, which start next Friday, because it would take away from Xi Jinping's big moment. Do you agree?

  • Richard Haass:

    I think that's probably right. Russia is too dependent on China strategically, economically. It's one of the reasons that sanctions may not have the desired effect.

    That takes you through February 20. After that, he probably has a month in which the weather is cooperative, the ground is largely frozen. So all things being equal, if he is thinking about something that involves an intervention, I think you're more likely to be looking in the month that follows the close of the Olympics.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And I'm wondering also if I could ask you about a little domestic politics here.

    Yesterday, we heard from the top Republican in Congress, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, say that Biden was — quote — "moving in the right direction" in confronting Russia and supporting Ukraine militarily.

    But very often, on the top cable channel host, Tucker Carlson on FOX, he urges us to go soft on Russia. Explain that dichotomy. Where's the Republican Party today on Russia?

  • Richard Haass:

    It's hard to speak about the Republican Party as a singular entity.

    I think the mainstream or relatively mainstream Republican Party pretty much agrees with the Biden administration, essentially strengthening NATO, threatening Putin with various sanctions, bolstering Ukraine's ability to resist an invasion or occupation, but maintaining some diplomatic off-ramp.

    I, quite honestly, don't fathom or understand the sympathy we're seeing on parts of the far right for Mr. Putin. He is repressive to his own people at home. He interferes in American democracy. He uses military force with some abandon, both in Europe and the Middle East. He gets up every morning, and he basically thinks about, what can he do to undermine the world that the United States has helped build, how to undermine American democracy.

    So, I simply don't understand the sympathy he seems to be generating in some quarters.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, thank you very much.

  • Richard Haass:

    Thank you, Nick.

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