Press play to listen to this article
NATO allies and Russia ended nearly four hours of deadlocked security talks on Wednesday, with the West categorically rejecting Moscow’s demands to no longer expand alliance membership and withdraw NATO forces from Eastern Europe.
“We can discuss many issues, but we cannot discuss some basic principles,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference after the meeting.
He said the allies were adamant that they would not accede to Russia’s request to ensure that Ukraine and Georgia would never join the alliance, and that they would not allow Moscow to dictate where allied countries would choose to position their forces.
During talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels, the NATO side proposed a series of additional meetings, but the Russians neither accepted nor rejected the offer, Stoltenberg said.
The inconclusive result suggested that after Wednesday’s meeting and the first eight hours of bilateral talks with the United States in Geneva on Monday, Russian diplomats must now return home to receive further instructions from President Vladimir Putin.
This week’s meetings, which will be followed by a third rally Thursday in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, were called in response to Russia’s mobilization of 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, and threats by Russia of a potential military strike if its security demands are not met.
The current standoff means a cloud of uncertainty continues to hang over Ukraine, which has been the target of Russian aggression since the invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and remains embroiled in a war with separatists, armed and financed by Russia, in eastern Ukraine. Donbass region.
“There is a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe,” Stoltenberg said. “We are lucid. So we also sent a message to Russia that if they use military force, the consequences will be serious; economic sanctions; political sanctions.
In December, with the US warning of a potentially imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin presented two draft treaties that Western officials and diplomats said would fundamentally rewrite the country’s security architecture. Europe.
Among other demands, Russia is insisting that NATO actually go back to 1997 before admitting many new countries from the former Eastern bloc, including Poland.
Stoltenberg, at his press conference, said Russia put these two proposed treaties on the table at Wednesday’s meeting, which was the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in more than two years.
The secretary-general said the allies had asked Russia to defuse the situation on the border by withdrawing its forces, but Russian diplomats have not pledged to do so.
Other officials and diplomats said Russia used the session in part to voice a litany of old grievances, including over NATO’s involvement in the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, as well as its bombing campaign. in Libya in 2011 which contributed to the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Stoltenberg said NATO allies in the former Yugoslavia directly rebutted the Russian claims.
In her own press conference at NATO headquarters, the main US official in the talks, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, said the allies have shown complete unity in the face of Russia.
She called the meeting a “remarkable expression of the power of diplomacy” and said: “Thirty sovereign nations spoke separately – NATO allies – and also spoke as one. NATO allies stand together. are expressed in unity in favor of a set of essential international principles – that all countries must be able to choose their own orientation in matters of foreign policy, that sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacrosanct.
Sherman said Russian diplomats had expressed concerns about the security of their own country, but some of those concerns seemed to defy reality. Citing Russia’s capabilities as a great nuclear power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, she said: “It is a powerful country. The fact that they feel threatened by Ukraine… is difficult to understand.
In a press conference, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko rejected suggestions that Moscow’s security concerns were not based on reality and said it was up to each country to determine what he needed to feel safe.
“Every country has the right to protect its borders and to protect its security,” said Grushko.
Grushko accused the United States and its NATO allies of repeatedly dealing in bad faith with Russia on security matters, but in response to a question from POLITICO, he also reiterated the Kremlin’s denials of any military intervention in the eastern Ukrainian territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, even though its presence is now felt not only militarily in the ongoing war, but in virtually all aspects of life, including the issuance of Russian passports .
“Well, there are no Russians in Donetsk and Lugansk,” Grushko said when asked how Russia could expect an honest dialogue if it did not acknowledge its own actions. “There is a NATO presence in Ukraine.
Grushko lambasted Poland for massing troops along its border with Belarus, and he criticized repeated claims by the United States in recent days that it would discuss nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine . He noted that NATO and Russia had had a conversation of more than 90 minutes on Ukraine without Ukraine at the table.
Throughout his press conference, Grushko described NATO countries as aggressors and Russia as a peacemaker, noting that NATO has only invoked its collective defense clause once. after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
“The rest of NATO’s history has been one of wars, of interventions and the consequences are still visible to this day,” he said. “We see states where there are displaced people, where there are terrorists in charge of territories, and the history of Russia is, on the contrary, that of stopping wars.
He added: “If NATO is to cooperate with us, it must consider Russia’s role as a guarantor of peace.
Although Russia has not formally agreed to future meetings, Grushko said Moscow is ready to continue talks. “Diplomacy is talking and without talking it will not be possible to get results,” he said. “We are ready to continue, but it should be meaningful discussions. It should not be a repetition of so-called slogans or principles. “
This article has been updated to add comments from Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko.