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Russia demands Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics be barred from joining NATO

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The Russian government has released a list of demands regarding security guarantees for Europe. The list, handed to a U.S. envoy in Moscow this week, amounts to a do-over of European history since the end of the Cold War. NPR's Charles Maynes is here with us now. Charles, so what is on the list?

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Well, first of all, this list was handed over to Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried when she came through Moscow to meet with Kremlin officials this week. And she promised at the time that she would pass this on to the allies and also to the White House for discussion. Now, Russian patience seems to have run out pretty quickly here because they went public with their demands, and it's quite a list. Moscow is asking for NATO to abandon all military activities, not just in Ukraine, but also Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It's asking NATO not to establish a new military bases on the territory of the former Soviet states and for NATO to guarantee it'll block future membership for any former Soviet republics. So we're talking Ukraine and Georgia not making it into the alliance.

It's also - wants a ban on troop deployments to Eastern Europe without Russian consent, with an additional caveat that the alliance would be prohibited from increasing troop numbers past those of 1997. That's before NATO expanded into Eastern Europe - so in effect, bans NATO from deploying forces in former communist member states like Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States. And I suppose if you're looking for a positive note here, the proposals call for both sides to agree that neither considers the other an adversary or would consider use of military force. But that's an awfully hard idea to swallow given the demands before it, as well as the fact that we have a hundred thousand Russian troops near Ukraine's border as we speak.

MARTINEZ: You know, I always think of the phrase there's no harm in asking. But I'm wondering in this case, is there harm in asking, considering the response maybe from the U.S. and its allies?

MAYNES: Well, you know, to state the obvious, this won't go over well, certainly not in Ukraine or Georgia. These countries were both promised an eventual path to NATO membership back in 2008 by the alliance. It certainly won't go over well in the Baltics, which were annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II and have legitimate concerns over their security from Russia. And it certainly won't go over well in Eastern Europe - Poland, Czech Republic, et cetera. These are places - these are countries that were subjugated by the authorities in the Kremlin and had communist governments for 70 years. And for them, NATO membership is a guarantor that that won't happen again.

Now, from the Russian side, this is, of course, Vladimir Putin trying to turn the clock back on the post-Cold War order with this fundamental idea that many of these decisions that were made in the '90s were made when Russia was very weak and divided and unable to push back. And now Putin in - under his leadership, you know, the country has risen from its knees, as they like to say. It's risen from humiliation. And it's time to at least try to rewrite the history at the end of the Cold War, as well.

MARTINEZ: Russia's got to know this is a non-starter and that President Biden won't agree to this. Any sense of what the Kremlin's overall strategy is here?

MAYNES: Well, first of all, you're right. NATO, the White House, President Biden have all said this is not going to work. Now, the Russians have said that they're hoping for another video conference between Putin and Biden before the end of the year. So this is one way to start the discussion, I suppose, a strange one. I mean, it really comes down to two options. Is this an extreme ask and an opening position that the Kremlin knows is unlikely where they then negotiate and walk back to something they really want and think is realistic? Or is this basically saying, we tried diplomacy, and they didn't listen, and now it's time to send in the troops?

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thanks a lot.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "NECROLOGY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.