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Can Russia and the West Reach a Compromise?

With Moscow’s new security demands, opportunities for agreement may be increasingly elusive.

By , an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual televised phone-in in Moscow on June 30.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual televised phone-in in Moscow on June 30.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual televised phone-in in Moscow on June 30. SERGEI SAVOSTYANOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: NATO grapples with Russia’s security demands, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin delivers a deadly blow to Biden’s Build Back Better Act, and Hong Kong holds bleak elections.

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Moscow Issues Key Demands Over Ukraine

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: NATO grapples with Russia’s security demands, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin delivers a deadly blow to Biden’s Build Back Better Act, and Hong Kong holds bleak elections.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here. 


Moscow Issues Key Demands Over Ukraine

As the massive Russian troop buildup near Ukraine’s border sparks fears of invasion, Moscow issued a strict list of security demands for NATO on Friday. The Kremlin’s requirements—several of which U.S. officials have deemed “unacceptable”—are extensive: Ukraine cannot become a member. NATO cannot expand eastward. Military activity in former Soviet republics must end.

The “U.S. and NATO have aggressively escalated the security situation in recent years,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. “Washington and its NATO allies must immediately end their regular hostile acts against our country.”

But with NATO having already ruled out many of the demands—and Moscow’s warnings that ignoring its proposals may spur countermeasures—opportunities for compromise appear increasingly elusive. 

Worst-case scenario? Hours after Russia laid out its demands, Ukraine urged Western officials to clarify their response to a potential invasion, in order to publicly signal their commitment. Kyiv has experienced “unprecedented support” from its allies, Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, told Foreign Policy in December. But, he added, “it’s important that these words are translated into concrete actions.”

For some countries, a military response may be out of the picture. Since Ukraine is not a NATO member, “it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to send troops into Ukraine to challenge Russia,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said, before noting that economic sanctions would be the most likely used tool. “We shouldn’t kid people we would.” 

United front. Biden administration officials have said the United States is prepared to engage with Russia over its security proposals—but only while involving European partners. “There will be no talks on European security without European allies and partners,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “We will not compromise the key principles on which European security is built.”


The World This Week

Monday, Dec. 20: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meet in Italy. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hosts a summit with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

Tuesday, Dec. 21: The U.N. Security Council meets to discuss Israel-Palestine.

Wednesday, Dec. 22: Ursid meteor shower. 

Thursday, Dec. 23: Russian President Vladimir Putin holds an annual press conference.

Friday, Dec. 24: Elections are planned in Libya, although a delay appears increasingly likely.

Saturday, Dec. 25: Christmas Day.

Sunday, Dec. 26: 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 


What We’re Following Today

Manchin’s deadly blow. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin delivered a potentially fatal blow to the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act on Sunday, when he announced he could not support the nearly $2 trillion spending plan. “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” he said on Fox News. “I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. This is a no.”

The possible death of the act—which covers education, climate, health care, immigration, and tax laws—would imperil packages meant to increase health coverage, develop universal pre-kindergarten and affordable child care programs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among other policies.

The White House’s response was pointed. “Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances,” Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a blistering statement. “They represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President.”

Hong Kong’s bleak election. Hong Kong held its legislative election on Sunday, in the latest display of China’s growing control over the territory after remaking its electoral system. All candidates were approved by authorities, and opposition leaders languished in jail. Despite government efforts to encourage voting and feign legitimacy, the election was distinguished by record-low turnout: Only 30.2 percent of voters participated. 

Authorities framed the low turnout as an indication of high satisfaction with the government. “There is a saying that when the government is doing well and its credibility is high, the voter turnout will decrease because the people do not have a strong demand to choose different lawmakers,” said Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive. 

Boric triumphs in Chile. Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old leftist congressman, was elected Chile’s youngest president on Sunday in a highly polarized presidential runoff. He secured roughly 56 percent of the vote, easily defeating his rival José Antonio Kast, a far-right populist who took 44 percent. “I am going to give the best of me to rise to this tremendous challenge,” Boric said after his victory. “I will be the president of all Chileans.”


Keep an Eye On 

Latest hit. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversy-ridden month took another hit after his close ally and Brexit minister, David Frost, resigned over “concerns about the current direction of travel.” In his absence, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is set to oversee his responsibilities.

As Johnson comes under fire for his mounting errors and scandals, his political star is dimming, Owen Matthews writes in Foreign Policy. He must now find a new way to keep voters’ loyalty—and prove that his own failings haven’t killed faith in his political wizardry.

Sudan erupts in protests. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators faced tear gas as they marched throughout Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, to protest the country’s October military coup. The day was symbolic: It also marked the third anniversary of the ousting of military dictator Omar al-Bashir. According to independent reports, at least 45 people have been killed by government crackdowns on the demonstrations since the October coup. 

Leaving Afghanistan? Hundreds of Afghans have been waiting in long lines—and enduring freezing temperatures—for the chance to secure passports to leave Afghanistan. Although the Taliban stopped issuing passports after their takeover in August, leaving many trapped in the country, they announced the resumption of the process on Saturday. 


Odds and Ends 

After Hassan Dervish, a widely beloved ice cream man in London, died of cancer, a funeral procession of 10 ice cream trucks took to the streets with ice cream jingles to honor his life. “The first one came, and then there was another, and then there was another,” said Savash Turkel, his brother. “All of a sudden, there were probably 10 ice cream trucks that followed him all the way to the cemetery. There were so many ice cream trucks for my brother.”

The heartwarming procession is part of a long U.K. ice cream vendor funeral tradition. Similar processions also took place to honor the lives of Pasquale Marucci in Hampshire, England, and John Lennie in Wimborne Minster, England.

Christina Lu is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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