Vladimir Putin is putting the squeeze on NATO and Western leaders for immediate negotiations to halt NATO expansion and put in place security agreements that will limit the amount of NATO forces in states neighboring Russia. He began the week by holding telephone discussions with French and British leaders on the matter. Today, he broached the subject with the president of Finland. Putin has received little more than guarantees to continue such discussions in the future yet the Western powers are moving slower than he would like. Understandably so. With the buildup of Russian forces near its border with Ukraine continuing, NATO refuses to be strongarmed into security discussions with Russia. Agreeing to such talks will only undermine NATO’s position even more, forcing it to negotiate from a weak position.
Russia has hinted it may be compelled to respond militarily and deploy tactical nuclear weapons if NATO’s eastern expansion does not end. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov made the threat as Putin’s demands for talks have not received a positive response. “A lack of progress towards a political-diplomatic solution would mean that our response will be military and military-technical,” Ryabkov said, laying out the position of his government with alarming clarity: If NATO expansion cannot be curbed by diplomacy, Russia will resort to military force to halt it.
Meanwhile, in the Black Sea on Tuesday tensions continue to rise. Russia is monitoring the movement of a French warship in close proximity to its territorial waters. Last week, Russian aircraft were scrambled to intercept US and French military aircraft over the Black Sea. NATO’s consistent naval and air presence in the region has been a thorn in the side of Russia for some time. Putin has accused the United States and Russia of provoking tensions in the Black Sea since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.