The difficult mission of negotiating with Putin

2 min
Ukrainian border guards on a road leading to Russia

The purpose of Russian President Vladimir Putin's latest manoeuvres is unclear. He is making it look like he is withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border in what looks like a new ploy to fool the West. NATO, in fact, does not give any credibility to the Kremlin's information and sees Russia as continuing to build up forces on the border, a move inevitably reminiscent of the beginnings of the two world wars that ravaged the European continent during the 20th century. It is unclear whether Putin is bluffing and does not really intend to invade Ukraine or whether, on the contrary, he is willing to launch a large-scale military operation under the guise of self-defense, even if it is at the price of blowing up his relations with the West.

In general, both Paris and Berlin do not quite believe Putin's threat because they consider that he has a lot to lose economically, but both Washington and London see the invasion as a possible scenario. The only thing that is clear is that Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, are masters in the art of deception and specialists in managing European division around how it should relate to Russia.

In this sense, we should congratulate ourselves for the fact that the European Union is maintaining a united stance in this crisis and is firmly committed to a diplomatic solution in coordination with the United States. But we cannot be naïve. Putin will hardly accept to go back to the starting point of the crisis without receiving anything in exchange, and what he basically demands is that Ukraine should not be part of NATO in order to have space vis-à-vis the Atlantic Alliance.

The dilemma for NATO is not a minor one, since up to now it has been a club open to anyone who has wanted to join, especially those countries that were part of the USSR or the Eastern Bloc and which have an atavistic terror of Russian imperialism. Moreover, it would also be in the West's interest to find a situation of equilibrium with Russia, too big a country and with an enormous destabilising potential to be treated with arrogance or contempt.

In any case, both NATO and Putin know that an invasion of Ukraine would provoke a large-scale conflict (even if the military invasion were quick at the beginning, it would not be so easy to control the land afterwards, as the United States saw in Iraq) and it would provoke a worldwide economic shock, about which the stock markets have been sending out worrying messages for days now. The priority, therefore, must be to convince Putin that he has more to lose than to gain from a military operation, and to offer him a dignified solution that respects Ukrainian sovereignty. It is not an easy task for European and American diplomacy, since they are confronted with an autocrat who feeds on the cult of Russian nationalism and anti-Western demagogy. But everyone has too much to lose not to try until the end.