Without the participation of Germany and the EU, the USA and Russia open talks in Geneva on NATO activities in Eastern Europe and arms control measures. Moscow is insisting that NATO halt its eastward expansion and the military activities near Russia’s borders. Washington rejects this, but is prepared, for example, to scale back maneuvers in Eastern Europe. Berlin and Brussels are not involved. The “Normandy Format,” under which Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine have been unsuccessfully negotiating for seven years, has been currently put on ice. Western European powers are only included in the negotiation process within the NATO framework. The German government is engaging in frantic activities to exert more influence on the talks – so far also to no avail. According to experts, the United States could hardly win a war against both China and Russia. This is why Washington is interested in a certain degree of a relaxation of tensions on the European front.
Talks in Geneva
Bilateral negotiations between the United States and Russia on ending NATO's eastward expansion and on arms control measures in Eastern Europe began on Sunday evening in Geneva with preliminary talks. They will continue today, Monday, with a meeting between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. Russia is demanding, among other things, that NATO abstain from accepting new members from Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. The Western alliance should also cease military activities near the Russian border, and deploy troops and war material in the eastern part of NATO's territory – where they can be used, at any time, for a military attack against Russia – only in consultation with Moscow. Over the weekend, the Unites States agreed to negotiate limitations on the deployment of missiles and restrictions on its maneuvers, but still reject more far-reaching demands. A rapid breakthrough in the negotiations is considered unlikely. On the contrary, lengthy talks are expected and their failure is not ruled out.
“They Will have to Talk with Us”
The fact that they are not directly participating in the negotiations, is a serious blow for the EU states. They are trying hard to open up the bilateral talks between Washington and Moscow and to obtain an independent role in the process. Last week, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock traveled to the US capital for just a few hours with the sole purpose of pleading with her US counterpart. “No decision should be taken on Europe’s security without Europe,” Baerbock demanded after her meeting with Blinken. During his last week's trip to Eastern Ukraine, EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell declared that “it is clear that any discussion on European security must include the European Union.” “Whether they like it or not: They will have to talk with us,” he added. This Thursday and Friday, the EU’s foreign and defense ministers will discuss the development and explore ways and means to influence the negotiations at their informal meeting in Brest (France). It will be the first EU ministers’ meeting under French EU Council Presidency.
The German government had already attempted to revive the “Normandie Format” negotiations in December. The last summit in this format had been held on December 9, 2019 at the Élysée Palast. The process has been at a standstill since, the agreements reached at the time have never been implemented. This is now taking its toll, given the fact that Russia has lost interest in the unsuccessful “Normandie Format.” On December 21, 2021, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held his first telephone conversation with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, signaling also his commitment to reopening the negotiations. On December 23, Scholz’ Foreign Policy Advisor Jens Plötner and the Russian government’s negotiator for Ukraine Dmitri Kosak agreed to hold a meeting. Last week, that meeting was held in Moscow with the additional participation of French President Emmanuel Macron’s Foreign Policy Advisor Emmanuel Bonne. Following the four-hour talks, Kosak explained that “a number of practical steps for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements had been discussed” and ”plans for further contacts were made, also with the Ukrainian leadership.” The prospect of another “Normandie Format” meeting in the future, at ministerial level, had also been discussed.
Second Rank Only
Beyond these efforts, the European countries are currently restricted to their indirect NATO ties in the USA – Russian talks. Independent EU measures are therefore impossible. On Friday, NATO’s foreign ministers held a video conference meeting, to agree on the military alliance’s common standpoint. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg subsequently declared that NATO is “always ready to listen to Russian concerns” and will “make every effort to find a political way forward.” Concretely, NATO is “ready to engage in arms control with Russia” – conventional, nuclear. Stoltenberg also emphasized that at NATO-level, “the European Allies are at the table,” and the military pact consults with the EU – an indication that it is undesirable that the EU should play a more extensive independent role. Next Wednesday, the NATO-Russia Council will meet again for the first time since July 2019, to continue negotiations, following Monday’s US-Russia talks. There too the “European Allies” will be participating, insists Stoltenberg.
Drive a Wedge Between Adversaries
Observers are pointing out, in respect to why Washington has agreed to enter these talks with Moscow that Russia and China are closing ranks in their defense against western threats and aggression. As early as the summer of 2021, A. Wess Mitchell, a top-ranking US State Department official responsible for Europe and Eurasia during the Trump administration, found that the US waging a two-front war with both Moscow and Beijing would be “out of alignment with Washington’s military resources,” therefore the time available should be used to bring U.S. power to bear in the most efficacious ways possible to avert a two-front war. Just recently Vasily Kashin, a Russian China specialist noted that the U.S. cannot hope to prevail against the People’s Republic “without concentrating all of its resources on the Pacific.” Currently, he continued, “Russia, together with Iran, are the countries which are making such concentration almost impossible.” One solution to this dilemma, according to the Wall Street Journal, would be “to soften its approach to Russia” and systematically weaken Moscow’s relationship with Beijing. Currently, of course, this approach is hardly being implemented.
 Majid Sattar, Friedrich Schmidt: Eine Atmosphäre tiefen Misstrauens. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 10.01.2022.
 See also Führung aus einer Hand.
 Baerbock und US-Minister Blinken warnen Russland vor Konsequenzen. tagesspiegel.de 05.01.2022.
 „Die Ukraine ist Teil Europas“. tagesschau.de 05.01.2022.
 Kremlberater verhandelt mit außenpolitischen Beratern Deutschlands und Frankreichs zum Thema Ukraine. snanews.de 06.01.2022.
 Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the extraordinary meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs. nato.int 07.01.2022.
 A. Wess Mitchell: A Strategy for Avoiding Two-Front War. nationalinterest.org 22.08.2021.
,  Brett Forrest, Ann M. Simmons, Chao Deng: China and Russia Military Cooperation Raises Prospect of New Challenge to American Power. wsj.com 02.01.2022.