But such a meeting was never presented to Russia as a formal diplomatic offer.
Charles A. Kupchan, who was Europe director of the National Security Council in the Obama White House, said Putin’s quiet response to such remarks suggested that more explicit proposals to keep Ukraine out of NATO would have been futile.
“Was the body language coming from Washington, Kiev and all the European capitals enough to provide commercial space if he wanted it? Yes. But he didn’t seem to pick it up,” Mr Kupchan said.
“I think going back to the early 1990s, the American foreign policy establishment too easily dismissed Russian objections to NATO expansion,” he added. “That said, when I take a step back from the events of the past two months, the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO seems to me more like a smokescreen than the crux of the problem” for Mr. Putin .
Understanding the Russian attack on Ukraine
What is behind this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine in its natural sphere of influence, and it has become unnerved by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of the country joining NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is not part of either, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Andrew S. Weiss, Russia and Eurasia program manager at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Russia made impossible demands from the start, but the illusion of diplomacy sparked a political debate in the West that served M. Putin’s goals. Moscow, he said, focused “rather cleverly on the age-old complaints about Ukraine’s theoretical eligibility for NATO membership, knowing full well that this issue triggers a lot of people in the West “.
The United States has engaged in an “obsolete and predictable academic debate with ourselves about whether the policies of past administrations were unnecessarily provocative of the Kremlin,” Weiss said. That discussion, he added, played into the hands of “isolationists like former President Trump who argue that US alliances are an unnecessary burden and that Americans would be better off defending the border with Mexico.”
“In Europe, where anti-Americanism and Ukrainian fatigue are just below the surface, the Kremlin’s Potemkin diplomatic gamble has also paid off,” Weiss said.
Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said it was unclear whether Mr Putin had ever taken diplomacy seriously. But she said he might have expected the extreme pressure of an invasion to fracture the West and win it some concessions. “Having underestimated Western unity, he may have felt trapped and could not retreat without showing anything,” she said.