January 19, 2022 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 355

What To Expect From Russia-U.S. Relations In 2022

January 19, 2022 | By Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 355

The January 13 Russia-OSCE meeting in Vienna ended a week of intensive talks on "security guarantees" between Moscow and the Western powers. As January 13 marks the Russian festivity of the "Old New Year" ("Stary Novy God," the start of the New Year by the Julian calendar), one may summarize what "the long 2021" changed in Russia's foreign policy and reflect on the possible consequences for 2022.

(Source: Twitter)

"Putin's Ultimatum"

In December 2021, Russia sent to the U.S. and made public a draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States on security guarantees and an agreement on measures to "ensure the security" of Russia and NATO member states.[1] The two documents, also known as the "Putin's ultimatum," revealed Russia's radically new approach toward the West and the rest of the world.

In the draft, Moscow openly argued that several countries that spent some time being a part of either the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire cannot be considered fully sovereign (this is a rather old Russian approach[2]) and so have no right to join any other military alliances except those of which Russia itself is a part. The Kremlin also openly insisted that the West refrain from setting up military bases or installations in post-Soviet nations and even to withdraw all foreign (i.e., American) forces from the nations that joined NATO in or after 1997. This move made Russia the most profound challenger to the existing world order, since even China (which the United States considers its main strategic contender) never articulated its formal aim of subjugating neighboring countries to Beijing's will (in fact, China is trying to achieve this task using economic levers but does not make it the center of its foreign policy).

After the publication of the draft, Russia surely emerged as a bold revisionist power, whose concept of security became drastically different from the Western one. Even during Soviet times, the issue of establishing spheres of influence has never been put down in such clear terms. The "Declaration of a Liberated Europe," signed in Yalta in early 1945, focused on the "right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live,"[3] and almost all negotiations between the Free World and the Communist Bloc during the Cold War were mainly about arms control issues and/or present military tensions, but not about which state is allowed or not to join a military bloc. After WWII, the Soviet and Western blocs were formed as a result of war, decolonization, and popular revolutions in the "Third World," but not because of talks or treaties.

In the month of January, Russia had three important meetings: On January 10, 2022, Russia and the U.S. met to discuss security and arms control in Geneva; on January 12, a Russia-NATO Council meeting took place in Brussels; and Russia and OSCE representatives met on January 13 in Vienna. Yet, the U.S. and Russia viewed the current negotiations with two different parameters. The U.S. and its allies consider "security" to have a function of disarmament and de-escalation, so the issues of missiles deployment, military exercises, and troops buildups along borders is given the highest priority. Russia, instead, prioritizes completely different points, which are considered to be "non-starters" for the U.S.[4] Hence, the talks were poised to produce no results, and this was the way they ended. The latest Russia-OSCE talks in Vienna also brought no result, as the members of the Russian delegation recently admitted.[5]

Russia's Intervention In Kazakhstan

During the weeks of preparation for the summits, quite telling events took place in Kazakhstan, one of Russia's closest allies, where economically motivated protests turned into a kind of coup d'état and a local civil war developing simultaneously. While being in disarray, the Kazakh leadership turned to Russia for urgent help,[6] and the Kremlin quickly dispatched peacekeeping forces administered by the Russia-led military block known as Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO – it is worth noting that some observers pointed out that for this operation Russia was forced to mobilize almost all its Soviet-built aging transport aircraft).[7]

Russia's intervention highlighted another critical difference between the Russian and the Western approach to security. For Russia, military alliances are created for enhancing domestic stability (as was the case in the Warsaw Pact intervention to curb dissent in Hungary in 1956, in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1964, and in the CSTO's recent presence in Kazakhstan), while alliances in the West serve to protect member states from external threats. In fact, Russia's intervention in Kazakhstan, which the Kremlin saw as beneficial for the talks with the U.S. to prove its might, ended up being not so productive, as it revealed to the West that Russia wants to have control of the post-Soviet space in order to freely intervene militarily and exert political influence.

The entire picture of what has happened in the past two weeks resembles very much the events that unfolded in 2015, when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to intervene in the Syrian civil war on the side of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, sending Russian troops and using this case for arguing that Russia had become the leading force in the fight against the Islamic State. The move was praised in Moscow as creating a solid foundation for reconciliation with the West, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. Russian experts and policymakers seriously addressed the issue as the basis for a new "reset" with the United States.[8] At the time, President Putin flew to New York hoping to meet then President Barack Obama and orchestrate a new deal. However, Putin's "talks" with Obama took less than half an hour on the sidelines of UN General Assembly,[9] and for the last seven years Russia stayed in Syria with no significant achievements. Russia's long lists of requests from the West and the deployment of troops in Kazakhstan yielded similar results: Russian representatives – at Russia-U.S. security talks in Geneva on January 10 and at the NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels on January 12 – were swiftly dismissed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had to express "hope" to get some written proposal from NATO officials that might be considered as a basis for future negotiations.[10] Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had to admit that the negotiation attempt was "unsuccessful."[11] For Russia, trying to approach the Western powers from a position of strength did not produce any result and the Kremlin had to face the tough reality and accept that it had not managed to break the rules of the present international order.

The Catch-22 Of Russian Foreign Policy

Two major points should be addressed in this new situation. First, the real nature of Russia's growing aggressiveness should be analyzed. The Russian paradox consists, as I have repeatedly argued, in the fact that the Kremlin uses its foreign policy almost exclusively for settling its domestic affairs. It could even be argued that Russia these days does not have a foreign policy, as its main goal is to create a favorable image for the Kremlin vis-à-vis its own citizens. The occupation of Crimea had no geopolitical motive: the Russian Black Sea fleet is blocked in this closed sea, and Russia got no strategic advantage by deploying its land forces on the peninsula. Yet, the entire Crimea affair pushed Putin's approval figures from around 60 percent to 85 percent, and the Russian President managed in this way to consolidate his power in Russian society.

From a foreign policy perspective though, the occupation of Crimea was counterproductive. Prior to 2014, Ukraine declared that the country had no intention of joining a military bloc.[12] Furthermore, Ukraine's 1996 Constitution prohibited the government from accommodating foreign military bases on its soil.[13] However, by the end of 2014, the "non-alignment" requirement was lifted,[14] and the 2019 constitutional amendments proclaimed NATO membership as Ukraine's ultimate goal[15] (it is worth noting that the share of Ukrainians who support the country's NATO membership increased from 12.5 percent in 2008[16] to almost 60 percent today[17]).

The latest developments in Kazakhstan appear to be as counterproductive as the occupation of Crimea. Last summer, President Joe Biden told reporters that Ukraine must overcome first its widespread corruption before dreaming of joining NATO.[18] However, after Russia's troop build-up along Ukraine's borders and Russian intervention in Kazakhstan, Western leaders have voiced that it is feasible for Ukraine to join NATO (though no one has given a precise timeline for its accession). Hence, the Catch-22 of Russian foreign policy lies in the fact that Putin, obsessed with fighting against challenges and threats, needs to create them first in order to convince his subjects that without his efforts and leadership the country would face intolerable risks. All this shows that the West cannot "buy" Russia's quietness, since as long as Putin is synonymous to Russia, the country will remain l'enfant terrible of global politics. As Secretary Antony J. Blinken rightly noted: "Russia's actions have precipitated exactly what President Putin says he wants to prevent."[19]

Second, what will happen in 2022 should be analyzed, as Moscow seems to be more and more disoriented. Russian officials are routinely warning that "without firm agreements on the lines that cannot be crossed and the principles that cannot be broken, events will take place that may lead to catastrophic consequences"[20] and insisting that "if NATO chooses the politics of deterrence, we will respond by counter-deterrence, if it opts for intimidation, there will be a counter-intimidation,"[21] but are unable to predict any future moves. As I argued in my previous analysis,[22] Russia's full-scale military intervention in the Ukraine remains very unlikely because of its unbearable costs (as a consequence, U.S. lawmakers have already announced that Western powers would sanction not only top officials but Putin as well,[23] in response Russia has already senselessly uttered that such a move would "lead to a complete demise" of Russia-U.S. relations[24]) and due to the high probability that Russia may lose the operation on the ground or pay too high a price for it.

Hence, the Kremlin has now two main options: to further destabilize Ukraine and further increasing its influence in those countries in the post-Soviet orbit in general. The destabilization of Ukraine would most probably involve the formal recognition of the breakaway "republics" in Donbass or a series of treaties with them, legalizing the Russian military presence in Ukraine.[25] The further militarization of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the strengthening of the Russian presence in the CSTO member states and, of course, the intensification of the new arms race – both real and imaginary – could all then be expected.

Some sources in Russia believe that the Kremlin may engage in talks with Cuba or Venezuela for a military deployment in the two countries,[26] or that it will increase its assistance to the North Korean regime, which has become extremely active in conducting new missile tests in recent weeks (the United States already accused a Russian company in assisting North Korea military buildup). Nevertheless, all these steps can by no means lead to "catastrophic" consequences. Hence, it could be safely said that the Kremlin these days simply has no cards to play to either confront the West or get out of the impasse with the West that Putin himself has brought upon Russia.


What can be said for sure, after the recent talks with the West, is that Russia got a cold shower, and not – as many expected – a new "Big Deal" between Moscow and Washington. In Russia, many experts advocate a conspiracy theory insisting that Kremlin leaders (especially Russia's Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev) developed a network of connections with their U.S. counterparts (including CIA Director and former Ambassador to Moscow William Joseph Burns, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and other top government officials) and that they expect Washington to leave Ukraine to Russia in 2022 (or, at least, to force the Ukrainian government to implement the Russia-brokered Minsk agreements) in exchange for Moscow's more pro-West approach vis-à-vis China or for cooperation with Russia on climate issues or local developments in other parts of the world.[27]

However, the most probable outcome will be a new wave of aggressive political rhetoric by the Russian leaders (State Duma deputies have already suggested bombing Ukrainian cities[28] and formally reinstating the Russian empire, which even Finland sooner or later would like to join[29]). Rhetoric does not need money or troops, and it seems that it is the only thing that Russia may now offer. The West has only to wait and see what the Kremlin's next steps will be, since there is no reason at all to propose any kind of ease to Russia's self-perpetuating anxieties.

*Dr. Vladislav Inozemtsev is MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project Special Advisor


[1] During the December 15, 2021 meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry, the U.S. received a draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on security guarantees and an agreement on measures to ensure the security of the Russian Federation and member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). See:, December 17, 2021

[2] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 334, Russia's 'Real Sovereignty' In Foreign Policy Is Just A Means Of Consolidating Its 'Domestic Sovereign Powers', by Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev, November 1, 2021.

[3], February 11, 1945.

[4], January 10, 2022.

[5], January 13, 2022.

[6], January 10, 2022.


[8], February 16, 2016.

[9], September 28, 2015.

[10], January 13, 2022.

[11], January 13, 2022.

[12], Kuly 16, 1990.

[13], 1996.

[14], December 29, 2004.

[15], February 20, 2019.

[16], November 26, 2009.

[17], 2021.

[18], June 15, 2021.

[19], January 7, 2022.

[20], January 13, 2022.

[21], January 12, 2022.

[23], January 12, 2022.

[24], January 13, 2022.

[25], January 12, 2022.

[26], January 13, 2022.

[27], January 11, 2022.

[28], December 27, 2021.

[29], January 13, 2022.

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