Respect for understandable safety interests would serve peace

NATO, Russia, and Ukraine in December 2021

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

For a few weeks now, the leading media and government politicians in the NATO states and in other Western countries – including Switzerland – have once again been trying to put Russia in the dock. Based on inaccurate information regarding Russian troops in the “vicinity” of Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern borders – the article by Ralph Bosshard (Russian troop deployment – reality or US political bubble?) explains what to make of this from the perspective of a security expert – these media and politicians speak of a Russian threat and intentions to attack Ukraine. Representative of these voices is the one by Ulrich Speck, editor of a “briefing” on German foreign policy, in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 4 December, entitled “The revenge of the autocrats on the system of the West” and the preface: “It was mistaken to believe that dictatorships would die out after ‘1989’. The rulers in Moscow and Beijing are attacking the West more and more openly. The latter tried to ignore this for a long time. But this is no longer possible.” The article itself cites no evidence for its insinuations but ends with a clear recommendation: “The West therefore has no choice: it must engage in the struggle forced upon it, accept competition at all levels: political, economic, technological and on the global stage. The more resolutely the democracies accept this confrontation, the more they will find themselves in a position of strength, and the lower the price they will have to pay for it.”

The formula of conflict between democracies and autocracies

The narrative of these voices can be summarised as follows: The “autocratic” (evil) Russia behaves so aggressively towards the “democratic” (good) West because it believes that this is the only way it can maintain its “autocratic” (evil) power. But the “democratic” (good) West can no longer accept this. It must finally take up the fight against the bad guys before it is too late, and evil has won. The US president’s invitation to a “summit of democracies”, which, according to the headline of the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 10 December, are in a “fight for survival” against the “autocracies” of the world, fits exactly into this pattern. This is war rhetoric.
  In his article (
Who is the aggressor?), Jochen Scholz has pointed to facts that shed a different light on the recent history of the West’s relations with Russia. As far as Ukraine and Russia’s relations with this neighbouring country and with the NATO states are concerned, a few original quotes from the Russian perspective should first be included here to supplement Jochen Scholz’s remarks.
  On 30 November 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked at an investors’ conference what the “red lines” were for Russia with regard to NATO and its activities in Ukraine and what the Russian troops in the “vicinity” of Ukraine were all about. 

Russia and Ukraine – what did the Russian president say?

The Russian President replied: “Regarding the potential deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine, the rumour first appeared in early 2021, when we held the ‘Zapad 2021’ military exercises, but, as we know, nothing happened. The point at issue is not to deploy or not to deploy troops, to fight or not to fight. The point at issue is to develop relations aimed at fairer and more stable development based on respect for the security interests of all the participants in international affairs. If we work towards this sincerely, nobody will feel any threats. […]
  Third, the Russian Federation also has certain apprehensions regarding the large-scale military exercises held near its border, including unscheduled ones, like the recent Black Sea drills during which strategic bombers, which are known to carry precision and possibly even nuclear weapons, made flights within 20 kilometres of our border. All this is posing a threat to us.
  As for the red lines, they are largely hypothetical. Nevertheless, take a look at what has been going on for the past 20 years: relations between Russia and the Western community […] were nearly cloudless in the 1990s and early 2000s. Why did they need to enlarge NATO towards our border? What for? Who can answer this question? There is no reasonable answer; it does not exist.
  Our relationship was almost idyllic, especially in the mid-1990s, when we nearly became allies. However, despite all our warnings, conversations and requests, the [bloc’s] infrastructure ultimately approached our border. The situation went as far as the deployment of BMD systems in Poland and Romania, and the launchers that have been stationed there, the Mk 41, can be used to launch Tomahawk missiles and other strike systems. This is creating a threat to us – this is an obvious fact.
  What has happened in response to all our appeals and requests not to do this? You can see it now. As a result, we had to – I want to stress this – we had to reciprocate by launching the creation of hypersonic weapons. This was our response. But we were not the first to start all this – it all began when our partners withdrew from the ABM Treaty and later from the INF treaty.”1

Red Lines …

“You have asked about Ukraine and where the red lines run. They are, above all, the threats to us that can come from that territory. If the enlargement, the infrastructure continues to be enlarged […] I will repeat this once again that the issue concerns the possible deployment in the territory of Ukraine of strike systems with the flight time of 7–10 minutes to Moscow, or 5 minutes in the case of hypersonic systems. Just imagine that. […] The flight time to Moscow is 5 minutes [for these systems]. […] We would need to create similar systems to be used against those who are threatening us. […] But we can do this already now, because we have held successful tests, and early next year we will put a new sea-launched hypersonic missile with a maximum speed of Mach 9 on combat duty. The flight time to those who issue orders will also be 5 minutes.
  Where are we heading? Why are we doing this? The creation of such threats for us is the red line. I hope it will not come to this. I hope that common sense and responsibility for one’s country and the international community will prevail after all.”2

… and contractual security guarantees

A day later, on 1 December, the Russian president addressed 20 newly accredited ambassadors to Russia on the same matter. These statements should also be reproduced here in detail: 
  “At the same time, we express our concern not only over the fact that the international community is acting separately and cannot unite to address truly important problems, but also over how some of our partners are behaving towards our country, towards Russia, trying to restrain our development in every possible way, to exert sanctions pressure and, moreover, to escalate tensions near our borders.
  By the way, the threat on our western border is really growing, and we have mentioned it many times. It is enough to see how close NATO military infrastructure has moved to Russia’s borders. This is more than serious for us.
  In this situation, we are taking appropriate military-technical measures. But, I repeat, we are not threatening anyone and it is at the very least irresponsible to accuse us of this, given the real state of affairs. This would mean laying the blame at the wrong door, as the Russian saying goes.
  In my speech at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs I already stressed that the priority facing Russian diplomacy at this juncture is to try to ensure that Russia is granted reliable and long-term security guarantees.
  While engaging in dialogue with the United States and its allies, we will insist on the elaboration of concrete agreements that would rule out any further eastward expansion of NATO and the deployment of weapons systems posing a threat to us in close proximity to Russia’s territory. We suggest that substantive talks on this topic should be started.
  I would like to note in particular that we need precisely legal, juridical guarantees, because our Western colleagues have failed to deliver on verbal commitments they made. Specifically, everyone is aware of the assurances they gave verbally that NATO would not expand to the east. But they did absolutely the opposite in reality. In effect, Russia’s legitimate security concerns were ignored and they continue to be ignored in the same manner even now.
  We are not demanding any special terms for ourselves. We understand that any agreements must take into account the interests of both Russia and all other states in the Euro-Atlantic region. A calm and stable situation should be ensured for everyone and is needed by all without exception.
  That said, I would like to stress that Russia is interested precisely in constructive collaboration and in equitable international cooperation, and this remains the central tenet of Russian foreign policy. I hope that you will convey this signal to the leaders of your states.”3

No indications yet that the NATO states will relent

I think it is necessary to quote the Russian President in such detail. It gives us a better understanding of what moves Russia. 
  So far, however, there are no signs that those responsible in the NATO states have paused or even have relented. On the contrary, the verbal attacks on Russia have become even sharper and more spiteful after the Russian president’s statements. US President Joe Biden reacted on 3 December, a few days before the video conference between the two presidents agreed for 7 December, (see box) – by saying that he did not accept red lines from anyone, but later spoke of his own “red lines” and threatened the toughest sanctions and further armament of Ukraine. 
   In parallel, NATO has been arming itself against Russia for some time: with plans for the stationing of US hypersonic missiles in Germany,4 with the relocation of heavy military equipment from Great Britain to Germany,5 with a heating up of the war atmosphere in Ukraine by representatives of NATO states6.

The dead end of western politics of violence

After their “victory” in the first Cold War after 1991, the powers in the USA, in the other NATO states and in the West as a whole, believed that they could impose their view of things and their interests worldwide, that they could dominate the world in their own way. They have done so with wars against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1999), against Afghanistan (from 2001), Iraq (from 2003), Libya (from 2011) and Syria (from 2011), with support for armed uprisings and so-called “colour” revolutions in Russia (on the side of Chechen fighters), in China (on the side of violent Uyghurs), in Syria (also on the side of IS), in Ukraine (on the side of also violent Maidan fighters) and in some other countries with domestic problems as well as with a multitude of sanctions, entire regions have been affected and the world has not been made better by this, but has created discord and insecurity. 
  The powers that be in the USA, in the other NATO states and in the West as a whole are driving into a dead end. And the deeper they drive into this dead end, the more difficult it is for them to make the indispensable return to international law and respect for the equal rights of all the states of this world. So, it is not only a question of material interests, but also of political psychology whether a timely change of course will be possible. What is needed above all is a determined will to change course – also on the part of the citizens. 
For the natural longing for peace of all people, only that would be a blessing.

In 2014 Brzezinski showed understanding for the fact that Russia feels threatened

One last thing: Jochen Scholz mentions the US security advisor and strategic thinker Zbigniew Brzezinski. In his book “The Grand Chessboard”, published in English in 1997, in the conviction at that time of the self-evidence of US world supremacy, still wrote how important Ukraine was for the US “bridgehead” into the Eurasian region and why a Ukraine oriented towards the West was so important to block Russian great power plans once and for all. 17 years later, and in view of a changing world, in an article for the “Washington Post” on 3 March 20147, shortly after the coup d’état in Ukraine, he again rolled out heavy artillery against Russia, but also wrote: “The West should reassure Russia that it is not seeking to draw Ukraine into NATO or to turn it against Russia.” [emphasis km]  •

2 ibid.
6 and
7 Brzezinski, Zbigniew. “What is to be done? Putin’s aggression in Ukraine needs a response”. In: Washington Post of 3 March 2014 

Video conversation between the Presidents of USA and Russia

km. On 7 December 2021, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, spoke for around two hours on various issues of world politics and the bilateral relations between the two countries. Whether this conversation will help to ease the tension in Russian American relations, and particularly regarding Ukraine, cannot be said at the moment. Reading the public statement by the Russian Presidential Office of 7 December ( and the minutes of the US press briefing by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on the same day (, one can get the impression that both sides want to keep the doors open for further talks, but that no solution to the problems raised is yet in sight. Even the media reports after the conversation were not able to spot silver linings on the horizon. How serious the situation is, shows an appeal from Germany published on 5 December 2021. This appeal was done by high-ranking former German Bundeswehr officers, former German diplomats, scientists at the University of the Bundeswehr and those responsible in German peace research institutes: “Get out of the spiral of escalation! For a new beginning in relation to Russia.” (

Our website uses cookies so that we can continually improve the page and provide you with an optimized visitor experience. If you continue reading this website, you agree to the use of cookies. Further information regarding cookies can be found in the data protection note.

If you want to prevent the setting of cookies (for example, Google Analytics), you can set this up by using this browser add-on.​​​​​​​