Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin recently talked to each other followed up by talks between their diplomats without making any progress. Here are the main reasons behind the political deadlock.
The Western bloc and Russia are on opposing sides of a number of issues from the Syrian conflict and Russian-occupied regions in Georgia to anti-government protests in Belarus.
While none of these issues have had the potential to trigger a military confrontation between Russia and the Western bloc, the Ukrainian conflict has the greatest potential to lead to war between the two sides.
It’s clear that Ukraine matters much more than Georgia, Belarus or Syria to both sides. So why are the US and Russia having such a tough time seeing eye to eye on Ukraine?
“The irony rests in the concept that from the start of the talks, it was clear that there were some non-starters that made the talks unlikely to deliver any agreements,” says Ioannis Koskinas, a senior fellow at the international security program at the New America think-tank.
“The Russians demanded declarations that Ukraine would not be admitted into NATO and that the alliance would end its cooperation with Kiev. The Americans made it clear that Washington would not support altering NATO’s open door policy. This should lead us to question: Why hold talks in the first place?” Koskinas tells TRT World.
While the main disagreement between the two sides is on Ukraine’s prospective membership to NATO, both states also appear to test the other’s readiness to fight for Ukraine as well as their respective priorities.
But why does Ukraine’s NATO membership matter so much?
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union - which Russian President Vladimir Putin called "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" - Baltic states Latvia and Estonia, two former Soviet republics like Ukraine, also joined NATO. At the time, Moscow did not act assertively.
But they joined NATO in 2004, when Russia was trying to rally itself after the disastrous collapse of its predecessor state under Putin, who was a little careful not to raise eyebrows around the world about his leadership.
The Baltic states are also different from Ukraine. They are not Slavic nations like Ukraine and their historic connections with Russia are not as strong as Kiev’s, which was the capital of the first Russian state.
For the Western alliance, getting Ukraine on its side means breaking up both Russia’s Slavic and historic connections with Kiev, something which makes even Putin emotional. In a recent article, the Russian president called Ukraine “Little Russia”
"Beyond NATO considerations, the US made it clear that they would continue to export weapons to Ukraine," Koskinas says.
Beyond historic and ethnic factors, there is also a strong geopolitical element for both Russia and the Western bloc to get Ukraine on their side.
Unlike the two Baltic states, the Ukrainian border with Russia is much longer, is on the Black Sea and creates serious challenges to Moscow while presenting opportunities to NATO to make its adversary feel vulnerable.
Russia has shown its intolerance towards any unfriendly regimes as recently seen in Belarus, which also has a long border with Moscow. Belarus, which means White Russia in English, is also a European state with a common history and culture with Russia like Ukraine.
Despite strong protests against the pro-Russian leadership from 2020 to 2021, Moscow sternly backed the Belarus government, signalling its intolerance of the possibility of a pro-Western revolution as happened in Ukraine in 2014.
Unlike the Ukrainian revolution, Western support to Belarus amounted to words and not to any threats as US President Joe Biden has recently made against his Russian counterpart.
It might also be good to remember the political position of Finland, another European state with a long border with Russia, which has chosen to be neutral since the Cold War.
Even after the end of the Cold War, while being a member of the EU, Finland has never tried to enter NATO the way Ukraine is currently aggressively pursuing.
"Finland does not discuss with NATO joining it, nor does Finland have such a project upcoming ... Finland's security policy remains unchanged," said Finland Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto today.
While Finland is clearly considered a Western state, neither the Soviet Union nor the Russian Federation threatened the state with an invasion the way it has in Ukraine recently.
Does the Ukrainian conflict resemble the Cuban crisis?
The Cuban revolution and Havana’s close connections to the Soviets, which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed missiles by Moscow on the island, concerned Washington more than other possible conflict areas in Eastern Europe and Middle East.
It created deep concern in Washington because Cuba is located just 90 miles from the US coast. While Cuba had a population of 7 million six decades ago, is a tiny state and did not individually pose a national security threat to the US, the missile crisis brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war.
Today, Russia might feel the same way about Ukraine that the US did about Cuba.
In 1962, for the US, it was clear that Cuba was not Hungary, a central European state, where the Soviets suppressed an anti-communist rebellion in 1956, as the Western bloc just watched Moscow’s intervention as mere observers.
And for Russians, Ukraine might also not be Latvia or Estonia.