Off the top of my Head

Imaginative Speculation #0001 - Behind closed doors on the Russian - American security Treaty

by Laurie Meadows
26 February 2022 1600 hrs NZDT (0230 UTC) updated 1000 hrs NZDT (0900 hrs UTC)

Joe Biden is a highly intelligent man. And an experienced and cunning politician. He did what no other US President had done - he swallowed pride and brought the disastrous 20 year old American military incursion in Afghanistan to an end.

He was heavily and unjustly criticized or this politically brave act. He won't make the same mistake twice.

The USA is concerned with the Russian hypersonic missiles, which are unstoppable. The Americans want to negotiate a new treaty taking these new realities into account. As always, they want to negotiate 'from a position of strength'. So they cancelled all but one of the US - Russia strategic stability Treaties. Their thinking is sclerotically rigid and always founded in a 'for us to win you must lose' bias. This is understandable, as up to now they were the dominant force.

Russia had asked for negotiations on strategic stability, including in space, for a long time. I have inserted a long quote from the Russian Government, and it should be read carefully. Bear in mind that Russia is an honest player, it doesn't bother with stupid name calling and mind games. It says what it means and means what it says:
"The unilateral withdrawal of the USA from the INF Treaty is the most urgent and most discussed issue in Russian-American relations. This is why I am compelled to talk about it in more detail. Indeed, serious changes have taken place in the world since the Treaty was signed in 1987. Many countries have developed and continue to develop these weapons, but not Russia or the USA – we have limited ourselves in this respect, of our own free will. Understandably, this state of affairs raises questions. Our American partners should have just said so honestly rather than make far-fetched accusations against Russia to justify their unilateral withdrawal from the Treaty.
It would have been better if they had done what they did in 2002 when they walked away from the ABM Treaty and did so openly and honestly. Whether that was good or bad is another matter. I think it was bad, but they did it and that is that. They should have done the same thing this time, too.

What are they doing in reality? First, they violate everything, then they look for excuses and appoint a guilty party. But they are also mobilising their satellites that are cautious but still make noises in support of the USA. At first, the Americans began developing and using medium-range missiles, calling them discretionary “target missiles” for missile defence. Then they began deploying Mk-41 universal launch systems that can make offensive combat use of Tomahawk medium-range cruise missiles possible.

I am talking about this and using my time and yours because we have to respond to the accusations that are leveled at us. But having done everything I have just described, the Americans openly and blatantly ignored the provisions envisaged by articles 4 and 6 of the INF Treaty. According to Item 1, Article VI (I am quoting): “Each Party shall eliminate all intermediate-range missiles and the launchers of such missiles… so that… no such missiles, launchers… shall be possessed by either party.” Paragraph 1 of Article VI provides that (and I quote) “upon entry into force of the Treaty and thereafter, neither Party may produce or flight-test any intermediate-range missile, or produce any stages or launchers of such missiles.” End of quote.

Using medium-range target missiles and deploying launchers in Romania and Poland that are fit for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, the US has openly violated these clauses of the Treaty. They did this some time ago. These launchers are already stationed in Romania and nothing happens. It seems that nothing is happening. This is even strange. This is not at all strange for us, but people should be able to see and understand it.

How are we evaluating the situation in this context? I have already said this and I want to repeat: Russia does not intend – this is very important, I am repeating this on purpose – Russia does not intend to deploy such missiles in Europe first. If they really are built and delivered to the European continent, and the United States has plans for this, at least we have not heard otherwise, it will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, and create a serious threat to Russia, because some of these missiles can reach Moscow in just 10–12 minutes. This is a very serious threat to us. In this case, we will be forced, I would like to emphasise this, we will be forced to respond with mirror or asymmetric actions. What does this mean?

I am saying this directly and openly now, so that no one can blame us later, so that it will be clear to everyone in advance what is being said here. Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapons that can be used not only in the areas we are directly threatened from, but also in areas that contain decision-making centres for the missile systems threatening us.

What is important in this regard? There is some new information. These weapons will fully correspond to the threats directed against Russia in their technical specifications, including flight times to these decision-making centres.

We know how to do this and will implement these plans immediately, as soon as the threats to us become real. I do not think we need any further, irresponsible exacerbation of the current international situation. We do not want this.

What would I like to add? Our American colleagues have already tried to gain absolute military superiority with their global missile defence project. They need to stop deluding themselves. Our response will always be efficient and effective.

The work on promising prototypes and weapon systems that I spoke about in my Address last year continues as scheduled and without disruptions. We have launched serial production of the Avangard system, which I have already mentioned today. As planned, this year, the first regiment of the Strategic Missile Troops will be equipped with Avangard. The Sarmat super-heavy intercontinental missile of unprecedented power is undergoing a series of tests. The Peresvet laser weapon and the aviation systems equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missiles proved their unique characteristics during test and combat alert missions while the personnel learned how to operate them. Next December, all the Peresvet missiles supplied to the Armed Forces will be put on standby alert. We will continue expanding the infrastructure for the MiG-31 interceptors carrying Kinzhal missiles.

The Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile of unlimited range and the Poseidon nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle of unlimited range are successfully undergoing tests.

In this context, I would like to make an important statement. We did not announce it before, but today we can say that as soon as this spring the first nuclear-powered submarine carrying this unmanned vehicle will be launched.
The work is going as planned.

Today I also think I can officially inform you about another promising innovation. As you may remember, last time I said we had more to show but it was a little early for that. So I will reveal little by little what else we have up our sleeves. Another promising innovation, which is successfully being developed according to plan, is Tsirkon, a hypersonic missile that can reach speeds of approximately Mach 9 and strike a target more than 1,000 km away both under water and on the ground. It can be launched from water, from surface vessels and from submarines, including those that were developed and built for carrying Kalibr high-precision missiles, which means it comes at no additional cost for us.

On a related note, I want to highlight that for the defence of Russia’s national interests, two or three years ahead of the schedule set by the state arms programme, the Russian Navy will receive seven new multipurpose submarines, and construction will begin on five surface vessels designed for the open ocean. Sixteen more vessels of this class will enter service in the Russian Navy by 2027.

To conclude, on the unilateral withdrawal by the USA from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, here is what I would like to say.

The US policy toward Russia in recent years can hardly be called friendly. Russia’s legitimate interests are being ignored, there is constant anti-Russia campaigning, and more and more sanctions, which are illegal in terms of international law, are imposed without any reason whatsoever. Let me emphasise that we did nothing to provoke these sanctions. The international security architecture that took shape over the past decades is being completely and unilaterally dismantled, all while referring to Russia as almost the main threat to the USA.

Let me say outright that this is not true. Russia wants to have sound, equal and friendly relations with the USA. Russia is not threatening anyone, and all we do in terms of security is simply a response, which means that our actions are defensive. We are not interested in confrontation and we do not want it, especially with a global power like the United States of America. However, it seems that our partners fail to notice the depth and pace of change around the world and where it is headed. They continue with their destructive and clearly misguided policy. This hardly meets the interests of the USA itself. But this is not for us to decide.

We can see that we are dealing with proactive and talented people, but within the elite, there are also many people who have excessive faith in their exceptionalism and supremacy over the rest of the world. Of course, it is their right to think what they want. But can they count? Probably they can.

So let them calculate the range and speed of our future arms systems. This is all we are asking: just do the maths first and take decisions that create additional serious threats to our country afterwards. It goes without saying that these decisions will prompt Russia to respond in order to ensure its security in a reliable and unconditional manner.

I have already said this, and I will repeat that we are ready to engage in disarmament talks, but we will not knock on a locked door anymore. We will wait until our partners are ready and become aware of the need for dialogue on this matter."
Vladimir Putin,
February 20, 2019

You simply don't get a clearer warning and appeal to negotiate in good faith. But instead of sitting down and negotiating mutually acceptable terms in good faith, the USA ideologues felt they had to 'dominate' Russia first.

So the USA has used the Ukraine as its 'fall guy' to put pressure on Russia. It has done this by stuffing it with more and more weapons, and created endless (literally) training missions to Ukraine, beefing up Ukrainian runways, and working on 'alternative pseudo alliances' that will allow land-based offensive missiles to be based 10 minutes flight time from Moscow. There is nothing to distinguish a 'defensive' from an 'offensive' missile.

This places Russia in a position of either 'forcing' a security treaty with USA, or placing hypersonic missiles within 10 minutes of Washington, either from sea or from land (perhaps in Cuba).

"...there also are mechanisms to address these problems,...I hope that they will be used to prevent situations like the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is no reason for such developments...Is there a tough standoff between two systems now like it used to be in the Cold War era? There isn’t.

There are some mutual grievances and differences in approaches to resolving issues but that is no excuse for starting a confrontation like the Cuban Missile Crisis that occurred in the 1960s...If someone wants it, let them have it. I said today what would happen."
Vladimir Putin, February 20, 2019 at a media briefing

So Russia did what it had to - it wrote an effective security treaty, fully in line with existing principle of Treaty lore - and not subject to delay or bargaining - including the three core principles that ensure Russia's security without detracting from anyone else's security.

Well, after the negative reception to the Afghan pull-out, Joe Biden could not afford the political risk of being seen to sign a treaty with Russia, no matter how balanced and reasonable it was.

He knew he had to refuse to sign. And so...

Warning - my highly speculative musing, with zero proof!

And so, in talks with the Russian President, he canvassed options. Maybe it went something like:
President Biden: Politically we cannot sign this. We can't pull our military out of Ukraine, unless, of course, they are placed in dangers way.

President Putin: We cannot allow Ukraine to host missile systems that will endanger the existence of the Russian State.

President Biden: What will you do if we don't pull out of Ukraine?

President Putin: You have clearly stated you will not sign a mutually satisfactory Security Treaty for you internal political considerations. We will be forced to remove the risk from Ukraine.

President Biden: How, specifically?

President Putin: Again, we will be forced to eliminate the Military potential of Ukraine. It will be an adequate military-technical response, focusing on military installations of all kinds. Naturally, such response has dangers for any foreign troops placed there. In addition, we intend to end the Ukrainian threat to the security of the people Donbass by first agreeing to their long stated demand for us to recognize their independent status, and second forming a mutual defense treaty with them. We will take the opportunity to find and arrest or eliminate those neo-nazi elements responsible for crimes against humanity in the Donbass.

President Biden: When will you do this?

President Putin: we will tell you close to the time. We will give you adequate time to remove your people.

President Biden: If you do this, we will have to apply heavy sanctions against you. However, we are interested in continuing to import oil from you.

President Putin: You will not receive any oil from us unless you continue to sell oil drilling equipment to us.

President Biden: All right. We will sanction your major banks.This will include third party sanctions. This will cripple your economy.

President Putin: We will see this as an act of war, and make an appropriate response.We do not want this.

President Biden: All right, we will exclude energy sector transactions and exclude third party sanctions. You can use Euro or yuan.

President Putin: That provision falls short of an act of war. But you will be shooting yourself in the foot. That is not our concern.

President Biden: We already have missile deliver systems in Romania and soon Poland. How will you view these in future?

President Putin: These could be subject of negotiation, and this might include effective verification.

President Biden: Politically, the conditions will be ripe for a US - Russian post-conflict de-escalation - in the event, of course, you actually attack Ukraine. If you forgo military action in Romania we will keep missile systems out of Poland. But we will need to have serious negotiations on strategic stability after the next Presidential election.

President Putin: No, it must be before your election distractions. There is no guarantee you will occupy the Presidency after the election, and we cannot count on a favorable mood for peace coming from a new President of the other party.

President Biden: No. I can't give any guarantees. The political climate would not allow any meeting short of an existential crisis between us, such as a causus belli, for example extending sanctions to include you and Foreign Minister Lavrov.

President Putin: I warn you, any military or cyber attack on Russia will be responded to with military technologies the like of which you have never experienced before.

President Biden: And personal sanctions, how would you react?

President Putin: We will make an appropriate non-military response. But I emphasize, we want peace and security, and we both bear a special responsibility for that.

President Biden: Yes, I agree. Let's allow it to play out, and then we can meet our responsibilities together, including assuring security for all.

President Putin: All right. This sounds like "not one inch eastwards". We reserve the right to respond asymmetrically to any duplicity in the execution of this last sentiment. We will not allow delay.

This imaginary conversation sounds implausible, but, in general 'secret talks' do happen in diplomacy. Their content is never revealed. There are several things about recent events that I thought a little odd.

1. The American President, at a certain point said, apropos of nothing in particular, words to the effect that 'now that the course of events are set I can concentrate on getting more diverse advice, and getting out to meet the public more'.

2. Sergei Lavrov showed Anthony Blinken something in talks on the sideline of, I think, the recent OSCE event. He rushed off and pulled all the American staff from the embassy. Perhaps he was advised of the approximate date.

3. The entirety of the major vessels Russian fleet had already left port for the open sea, standing off at the ready.

4. A large US exercise had placed a US fleet in the Mediterranean.

5. Several Russian hypersonic missile carrying advance fighter-bombers arrived at the Russian military base in Syria.

6. Likely President Macron had been advised, as he rushed to Russia in a last ditch effort to give the Ukranians - who were patsys in all this - time to 'come round' and sign the Minsk agreements. Or so we are told. Perhaps he had tried to intermediate between the Russians and Americans. But he had no mandate from USA, so was powerless.

7. President Biden was absolutely adamant Russia was going to attack Russia, and roughly when. It seemed politically risky to me, but if he had the approximate timing, then it was a slam dunk.

8. Close to the time - several days before, well connected and balanced American analysts pushed the idea Russia would invade, which seemed to be out of character.

9. President Biden was clear from the start there would be no American troop involvement in Ukraine.

10. President Biden has made a feature of a reconstruction of diplomacy in the American State Department.And his messaging always repeats that diplomacy is the preference.
 "a moment where a leader is beginning and in the middle of invading a sovereign country is not the moment where diplomacy feels appropriate. It does not mean we have ruled out diplomacy forever. Obviously, the President remains open to engaging on a leader to leader level but this is not the moment."
USA spokesperson Jen  Psaki 25 February, 2022

This, of course, should be considered a flight of fancy. But just maybe some elements of this did happen. After all, both USA and Russia have unusually heavy burden of responsibility for not letting things get out of control, for all our sakes, as well as their own. And both the Russian and the American President are well aware that we are entering a climate emergency, an emergency which has to be responded to without distractions. No one can afford unnecessary armed conflicts.

Back to earth

In reality, the USA Government doesn't need to do anything to meet Russia's security demands. Ukraine is a tool to put pressure on Russia. The USA is not concerned for what happens there - it deliberately pressurised the Ukraine Government, inciting it to evade complying with the hard-won Minsk agreements. It held out false promise of a 'new Kosovo' in East Ukraine, complete with US bases. USA has a long record of callous disregard for civilian casualties. It has spent millions to arrange deadly weapons to be delivered to religion-incited criminal thugs in Syria - in the full knowledge of the horrors they would inflict on civilians there. And this is but the most recent example. So the USA feels no moral pressure whatever to avoid injury and death to any civilian population anywhere - as long as it is not US citizens. So, when Russia leaves Ukraine, the USA may swamp it with new high tech weapons and defense systems, perhaps even pre-emptively placing land-based nuclear missiles there.

The USA President may well have had excellent analysis establishing both that an attack was planned and pinning down the most likely window when it would happen.

And if the USA Government had planned to carry on with it's plans to surround Russia with land-based potentially nuclear armed missiles then it could afford to ignore Russia's pleas for security guarantees. Land-based missiles may take 10 minutes to reach Moscow right now, but in a few years the USA Government will have it's own hypersonic missiles. Based in Ukraine, Finland, Romania, Poland, some would reach Moscow in seconds, missiles in Taiwan or Japan would reach eastern Russia (or China) in minutes, and in large numbers might swamp the Russian missile defenses.

The USA clearly intends to place nuclear weapons in space, if it hasn't already done so. This is a completion of a 'dome of destruction'. If Russia does the same, well, it's a downwards arms race spiral.

USA has enormous resources within it's national boundaries, and needs very little from Russia. But constantly confronting Russia is a useful tool for dragging obedient European countries into it's plans and projects. The Europeans dutifully place trade embargoes on Russia, and receive trade embargoes in return. Russia and Europe lose a lot of business. And the USA picks some of it up.

Taken as a whole, the USA could, and maybe does, take the view that it doesn't needs to pay any attention at all to Russia's security concerns.

Maybe they are right. But what if they are wrong?

Index of Laurie Meadows' articles on security