“Chicken Game”: New War in Europe?


By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

The three days strategic negotiations which took place during the second week of January in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna between US and Russian Representatives, have failed to settle the main questions that Russia wanted to discuss with the US and NATO. In Geneva Wendy Sherman, US Deputy Secretary of State and Sergei Ryabakov, Deputy Foreign Minister started the negotiations, followed by the NATO / Russia Council meeting in Brussels that included representatives from 30 NATO countries as well as Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grushko and Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin and the OSCE meeting January 13th in Vienna. In the Words of Russian Deputy Minister Ryabakov the discussion finished in a “dead end.”

What was positive was that after a two and a half years freeze of the NATO- Russia council and any substantial security dialogue, a “frank” dialogue did take place, with both sides agreeing to have further dialogue (that includes the issue of arms reduction, arms control as well as closing the gap of mistrust.) Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed “disappointment”, judging the overall discussion as “failure” while at the same time he stated that there were positive moments and expressed hope that the dialogue will continue in the future.  As Peskov underlined, the initiatives for the discussions came from Russia in order to receive “concrete answers for concrete and principled question.”

In respect to those “concrete questions” Peskov in line with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, stated that Russia expects to receive within a few days a “written statement” that contains concrete answers from the side of the US. He pointed out that Moscow hears from NATO that the alliance will not extend. But at the same time the military alliance tries to recruit new countries as members (like Finland and Sweden for example that were mentioned in a statement by NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg on January 13th ) and that  in some member countries there is the demand to increase the NATO contingent on their respective territory.  “If NATO wants to dictate us, where and in which direction we should deploy our armed forces within our own territory, this is not possible. We speak here about Russian territory.” While pleading that the dialogue should continue, Peskov made adamantly clear that “concerning these principled questions there should be …results and a concrete answer.”

The background to this escalation is that on December 15th 2021, Russia presented a draft treaty proposal that was addressed to the US and NATO, in which Russia demands “security guarantees” from the USA and NATO. The draft agreement includes the demand that NATO should “guarantee” that neither the Ukraine nor other post- soviet states like for example Georgia, would become members of the NATO military alliance. It also includes the emphasis on mutual security guarantees concerning the “non- stationing of short- and medium range missiles which are in mutual reach for each side.”

After the deterioration of strategic relations between Russia and the West, it seems that Moscow’s legitimate desire to discuss a sensible security architecture for Europe that considers Russia’s fundamental security interests, has been “arrogantly” rejected by the USA and NATO. They stick to the line that Russia with its troop deployment near the Ukraine border is planning a “military invasion” into Ukraine. So, despite discussions it seems at this point that the US and NATO intend to teach Russia a lesson and humiliate its leadership.

Declaration about the actual Ukraine Crisis and way outs 

End of December (23rd) the “Executive of the Willy Brandt Kreis  e.V.” (which since 1997 is engaged in constructive peace efforts between East and West) published a statement “The present  Ukraine crisis and the European Peace order.” By January 7th several prominent representatives – including politicians, strategic experts, writers and researchers from Peace Research Institutes as well as disarmament experts signed the statement.

The statement emphasized that the military situation along the Ukraine- Russian border has escalated dramatically during the last weeks and that a solution seems not to be in sight. “We are extremely concerned about further escalation, which could lead to war, that could be triggered either by an unprovoked military Incident, or by preemptive actions. European diplomacy must aim at preventing a war about the Ukraine and its aim should be to solve in the medium- term the underlying European security problems. Russia has concentrated massive troop forces along the Ukraine border. The threat and the deployment of military force which aims at pushing through political aims should be condemned.” The statement emphasized that while NATO is concerned about the “unjustified Russian military build -up”, it has not presented any proposals for solving the crisis; instead the military readiness has been increased. “A halt of the military deployment and a renunciation to station new weapon systems is at the moment not in sight, further escalation is preprogrammed.” While the telephone call between the Russian president Putin and the US president Biden has not calmed the situation down, the statement emphasized,

A proposal presented by the Russian Foreign Ministry for Treaty based Security guarantees has been rejected by many voices in the West, without picking up important elements, for example future Arms control regulations.(…) The West has so far not recognized  how important the situation around Ukraine is for Russia. In this situation more steps have to be taken, to avoid a conflagration .Germany as the most important NATO member and its new federal government is especially challenged. We suggest the following steps to be taken”:


  1. We support the demands by SPD faction chairman Rolf Mützenich, who correctly has demanded direct negotiations between NATO and Russia on the basis of respective proposals, in order to find a way out from the present crisis and escalation spiral. The proposal for general confidence and transparency building measures is by no means sufficient. The halt of military deployment and a verifiable moratorium for the stationing of new weapon systems is urgently needed. Germany and France should invest more in the solution finding mechanism of the Normandy Format.
  2. The impending NATO- Russia Dialogue should be immediately used, in order to deescalate the very tense situation. For this purpose a decision should be made to reopen the connection mission between NATO and Russia. This mechanism should be reactivated and used, in order to make possible a stabile cooperation in respect to the underlying and complex problems of the European security and create new trust, in a continued and structured dialogue. Negotiations should be prepared in order to pave the way for a new Approach on European Arms control.


  1. The goal should be to involve Russia and NATO in a continuous discussion process that should also take place on the highest level. Aside the question concerning the Ukraine which is not a NATO member, what is at stake are key questions concerning the European security , in order to avoid a future arms spiral and not lose sight of a pan- European peace order. What is necessary is more transparency and more predictability; that way the “Open Skies treaty” could be immediately revived in order to carry out mutual inspections about troop movements and large scale manoeuvers. The treaties about conventional arms control must be resumed in the medium -term.


  1. We support the propositions from experienced former diplomats, former generals and scientists, to propose a high level conference and hold a conference, that on the basis of the continued validity of the Helsinki Final Act 1975, the Charta of Paris 1990 and the Budapest agreement from 1994, should consult about a revival and renewal of the central pillars of a stabile European security architecture. As long as this conference takes place, any military escalation, further grand scale manoeuvers and the stationing of weapon systems on the side of Russia and NATO should be renounced verifiably. These negotiations which also include binding security guarantees should not just be left to the USA and Russia. The OSCE has a lot of experience in the area of crisis preemption and conflict management as well as conventional arms control; its role should be strengthened.


The impulses that were given by Willy Brandt (German Chancellor 1969-74) and Egon Bahr (Federal Minister 1972-76) for a common security and a new “Ostpolitik” were based on the idea that progress does not occur by just repeating formulations, the statement emphasized. Only a well prepared dialogue and conceptual consistence can lead to progress in the Security of Europe. This means that also Russia’s interests must be taken into account. The concerns of Russia’s neighbors are very justified. As NATO members they enjoy the protection of the Washington treaty. Yet this also implies the responsibility to contribute to the solution of the actual crisis. In respect to Russia this also includes economic cooperation offers and a strengthened economic cooperation.Among the signers of the declaration there different personalities including:

*Prof. Peter Brandt, son of Willy Brandt.  It included  signatures from leading members of the “Willy Brandt Kreis” and from former SPD ministers such as former education minister Edelgard Buhlmann (SPD) and Heidemarie Wiezcorek- Zeul(SPD)  former minister for Development and Cooperation; Member of Parliament Ralf Stegner (SPD) who was minister of the federal state of Schleswig Holstein.

*Among the signers there were also former Ambassador Hellmuth Hoffmann (till 2009 permanent representative at the Geneva disarmament negotiations), as well as high ranking officials of the former GDR who served in the same function.

*Former advisor to Helmut Kohl and former chairman of the Security Conference Munich, Prof. Dr. h.c.  Horst Teltschik who recently got an award for having substantially contributed to the Reunification and understanding in Europe.

*Dr Alexander Rahr- one of the most influential German Kremlologists; Co- founder of the Valdai Discussion Club and Research director of the German- Russia Forum.

*Dr Antje Vollmer former vice president of the German Parliament

Aside several Peace Institute Researchers from Hamburg, Potsdam, Berlin and Frankfurt, there were as well theologians like Prof Dr Konrad Raiser as well as writers and Prof. Dr Michael Staeck (till 2025 president of the Academy of Arts in Berlin), who signed. The Statement mentioned the role of Germany in building bridges in the dialogue between Russia and the West. It is indeed not to be excluded that the new SPD Chancellor Scholz in the footsteps of Willy Brandt will grasp the strategic opportunity to contribute to the coming into being of a viable European Security architecture.


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