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Expand chart
Reproduced from Wall Street Journal; Map: Axios Visuals

Russian officials drew their talking points for Monday's meeting with U.S. officials in Geneva from a draft Kremlin treaty proposal that would force NATO to withdraw forces to its 1997 borders.

Why it matters: The question of whether NATO could expand to the east, which Russia has viewed as an existential threat, is at the heart of this week's security talks. Under the Russian request, the alliance would turn back the clock to 1997, before Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and other Eastern European countries joined it.

  • The U.S. and NATO view that as a complete non-starter.
  • A failure of diplomacy this week, though, could lead President Vladimir Putin to attempt to re-establish Russia's Cold War "sphere of influence" by force, beginning with an invasion of Ukraine.

Flashback: Putin's grievances are driven by a misrepresentation of history, beginning with his claim that the West promised during negotiations over the reunification of Germany in 1990 that NATO would expand "not one inch eastward."

  • It's true then-Secretary of State James A. Baker III used that language in early negotiations with Russia, but that provision never made it into the final treaty reunifying Germany, as Baker's biographer Peter Baker wrote in The New York Times.
  • In 1997, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act, effectively green-lighting enlargement on the basis the two sides "do not consider each other as adversaries" and would exercise military restraint.
  • Much has changed in the 25 years since: Russia accuses NATO of violating that treaty by deploying forces in post-1997 countries, while the West says Moscow brought these problems on itself by invading Georgia and Ukraine.

Driving the news: Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was categorical in her rejection of Russia's demands for NATO on Monday, telling reporters after more than 7 hours of talks in Geneva: "We will not allow anyone to slam close NATO's open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance."

  • Her Russian counterpart, Sergei Ryabkov, admitted that Moscow does not currently see any "political will" from the U.S. to act on "our top priority."
  • But the veteran diplomat held firm on the Kremlin's red lines, insisting that Russia needs "ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees, not assurances," that Ukraine and Georgia will never join NATO.

What's next: Despite sharing a pessimistic outlook, both sides said no decisions would be made on the path forward until the conclusion of two more multilateral meetings this week — the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday.

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. accuses Russia of preparing "false flag" operation to attack Ukraine

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The U.S. claims to have information indicating that Russia has "already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," laying the groundwork for a potential pretext to invade, according to a U.S. official.

Why it matters: Diplomatic talks between the U.S., its European allies and Russia failed to produce a breakthrough this week, raising fears that Moscow will invade Ukraine and unleash a devastating new war.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. confirms Russia arrested REvil ransomware hackers

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in Moscow in June 2021. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Russia's security agency said Friday it arrested members of the Russia-based cyber gang REvil that was responsible for multiple massive ransomware attacks against U.S. companies last year.

The latest: A senior administration official confirmed on Friday afternoon that Russia informed the U.S. that it arrested the alleged hackers, including an individual responsible for the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline.

Updated 10 mins ago - Economy & Business

Tax season nightmare ahead for understaffed IRS

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.