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Ukraine: Follow-up to Biden-Putin call – an audience with NATO

  • President Biden said he hopes to hold high level meeting between US, Russia and NATO allies to discuss Russia's concerns

  • Biden's surprise comments yesterday follow his call with President Putin on Tuesday

  • Such a meeting could trigger unease among some European governments amid concerns it legitimises Russia’s position

Ukraine: Follow-up to Biden-Putin call – an audience with NATO
Stuart Culverhouse
Stuart Culverhouse

Head of Sovereign & Fixed Income Research

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Tellimer Research
9 December 2021
Published byTellimer Research

Following our note yesterday on the Biden-Putin call on Tuesday, in which we remarked nothing major happened, it emerged later that President Biden said that he hopes to hold a high-level meeting between the US, Russia and at least four major NATO Allies to discuss Russia's concerns (see yesterday's State Department press briefing). It was hoped the meeting, as part of the US administration's strategy of diplomacy and de-escalation, would be announced by Friday, according to reports.

The surprising offer of an audience with NATO (or at least a sub-group) would appear to be a significant concession to Russia. Putin wants guarantees that NATO will not seek further expansion eastwards (inter alia, ruling out Ukraine's NATO membership) or deploy troops or military equipment in the region that could be used to attack Russia.

It is not yet clear who the NATO allies would be and the thought could trigger unease among some European governments, particularly those in the east.

Of course, just holding such a meeting doesn't mean the US and its allies have to commit to anything, and maybe such an audience itself could be enough to placate Putin. It might also be a small price to pay if it averts a war (although that depends on the West's assessment of Putin's intent and how likely they think war is).

However, there might be concerns that it legitimises Russia's position and could incentivise Putin to demand even more, perhaps escalating the military threat further in order to extract more concessions (rewarding bad behaviour). It could also send a negative signal to other strong-man leaders (just build up your military presence on someone's border or threaten them and you get international attention). And any agreement that were to come out of it which did commit to ruling out Ukraine's NATO membership to placate Putin would also undermine Ukraine's own sovereignty.

Conversely, what happens if Putin is disappointed by the meeting and doesn't get what he wants?