“If we start to go down that path of negotiating on the very core principles of the international order, then we end up in a world where might makes right and missiles and tanks and troops decide whether a country gets to choose its own future,” Michael Carpenter told RFE/RL.
Russia’s core European security proposals delivered to the West at the end of last year represent a slippery slope toward a new, dangerous world order, a senior U.S. official said.
Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in an interview with RFE/RL on January 31 that the West simply cannot negotiate key principles like the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations.
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“If we start to go down that path of negotiating on the very core principles of the international order, then we end up in a world where might makes right and missiles and tanks and troops decide whether a country gets to choose its own future,” Carpenter told RFE/RL.
Russia in December demanded NATO end its eastern expansion and withdraw troops and armaments from Central and Eastern Europe as Moscow seeks a clear sphere of influence in its near abroad and a reversal of the post-Cold War order on the continent.
It did so as it amassed more than 100,000 combat-ready troops near its border with Ukraine in what experts and Western officials have said is an attempt by Moscow to negotiate with a “gun on the table."
Russia is seeking to block Ukraine from joining NATO, something the Kremlin has called a “red line.”
Three rounds of negotiations earlier this month between the West and Russia on Moscow’s proposals were inconclusive, raising concerns that an invasion of Ukraine could be imminent.
Russia has denied that it intends to invade Ukraine.
During those meetings — and afterward — the United States and its European allies warned Russia that it will face “massive” economic sanctions if it invades Ukraine again. The West has also repeatedly said it will strengthen NATO forces in Eastern Europe and supply Ukraine with more weapons in the event of a military escalation by Moscow.
Carpenter, who represented the United States at an OSCE meeting with Russia on January 13, said the threat of powerful Western sanctions are meant to “sharpen” the Kremlin’s choices between diplomacy and invasion.
“What we judge as the most effective way of approaching the situation is to widen the gulf between those two choices so it becomes very, very clear” to Russia, he said.
However, there is concern about divisions within the West over how to respond to Russian aggression. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has deep trade ties to Russia and stands to lose more than others from sanctions against Russia.
Carpenter said that not every country may be “aligned 100 percent” on every measure being discussed among allies and partners, but he said he believes there is “rock solid” unity on the need to impose tough sanctions in the event of an invasion.
“I do believe we have that [unity] right now, thanks to very, very robust diplomacy from the United States and from our allies. We are in a very firm position to be able to impose those tough, severe consequences,” he said.
He said it is “impossible” to see a scenario where Russia’s $11 billion Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline to Germany is allowed to begin operations should Moscow choose to attack Ukraine.
Carpenter said Russia would only undermine its own goals by invading Ukraine, pushing Kyiv ever closer into Europe’s orbit.
While he called the military buildup near Ukraine very concerning, Carpenter still holds out hope for diplomacy, saying the West and Russia could make progress on some of Moscow’s demands, such as arms limitations and transparency of military exercises.
Those issues are of concern to the West, as well, he said.
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Carpenter also said the United States backs the continuation of peace talks to resolve the fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists.
Russia in 2014 fomented a war in two provinces in eastern Ukraine, supplying money, weapons, and troops. The war, which still simmers, has killed more than 13,200 people.
Ukraine and Russia have signed several agreements that offer a path to a peace settlement, but Russia has failed to carry out its part, including withdrawing armaments and opening the region to inspection by the OSCE.
“So far, those conditions have not been fulfilled by one party and that party is Russia,” he said. “Until those basic elements are fulfilled, it’s difficult to talk about the other aspects of the agreement.”