NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference on Wednesday (Jan. 12) that there is a “real risk” of new armed conflict in Europe amid tensions between the alliance and Russia.
Stoltenberg’s remarks came following the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in Brussels which lasted four hours-roughly an hour longer than expected.
The NRC meeting marked the second stage in a series of talks between Russia and the West on Russia’s proposals for European security. On Monday (Jan. 10), representatives from the US and Russia sat down in Geneva for more than seven hours of discussions. The third round of talks will be held in Vienna on Thursday (Jan. 13) as an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting. The US is a member of OSCE.
“There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia,” Stoltenberg said. “Our differences will not be easy to bridge, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia sat down around the same table and engaged on substantive topics.”
The alliance he said, “expressed serious concern” about the alleged Russian military buildup “in and around Ukraine.” Russia is accused of massing 100,000 combat-ready troops just across Ukraine’s eastern border and NATO allies have raised concerns that Russia could be preparing to invade Ukrainian territory.
Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine but says it needs a series of guarantees for its own security.
The NATO chief also called on Russia to de-escalate the situation and to “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours.” Stoltenberg also warned that if Russia decides to “use military force” against Ukraine, it will face “severe consequences,” including economic and political sanctions.
Russia has accused the West of failing to appreciate the urgency of its demands. In a broad outline, Russia’s stance boils down to three key points: the pullout of US nuclear weapons from Europe, the termination of the practice of deploying NATO’s conventional forces near Russia’s borders and creating its military infrastructure there and NATO’s official refusal to draw Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance.
Stoltenberg’s remarks made clear there had been no breakthrough at the talks. The alliance noted its open-door policy would remain in effect.
Talks hit “dead end”
Moscow has described its security talks with Washington and NATO this week as “disappointing” saying dialogue was continuing but was hitting a dead end.
“At this stage it is really disappointing” Russian Ambassador Alexander Lukashevich told reporters after a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.
“If we don’t hear constructive response to our proposals within a reasonable timeframe and aggressive behaviour towards [Russia] continues, we’ll have to take necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security,” Lukashevich said.
“The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill,” U.S. Ambassador Michael Carpenter told reporters after the talks in Vienna.
Earlier, Poland’s Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau told the 57-nation security forum that Europe is nearer to war than it has been in 30 years due to the current tensions.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the earlier meetings had shown there was a “dead end or difference of approaches.”
The Russian rouble fell by more than 2% against the dollar on Ryabkov’s comments, which also prompted a sell-off in government bonds.
“No one knows what Putin will do. Not in Moscow, nor in Washington, Kyiv, Berlin or Beijing. No one knows because as far as contemporary Kremlinology goes, the decision-making process in Russia has now been reduced to one man” Alon Pinkas, a senior writer on Israeli and American politics for Haaretz wrote.
Russia not going to wait for West’s promises
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference on Friday (Jan. 14) that Russia is able to ensure its security and is not going to wait for West’s promises.
“We know and are able to safeguard our security in any case, and I can assure you that we are not going to endlessly wait for some changes and promises,” the top diplomat was quoted by TASS as saying.
According to Lavrov, NATO is trying to dictate its will to everyone.
Blinken, Lavrov discuss Ukraine
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks on Tuesday (Jan 18) about the situation in Ukraine and Moscow’s recent meeting with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Blinken’s spokesperson Ned Price stated on Tuesday (Jan. 18).
“The secretary stressed the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions surrounding the deeply troubling Russian military build-up in and near Ukraine. The secretary reiterated the unshakable US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and underscored that any discussion of European security must include NATO Allies and European partners, including Ukraine,” Price said in a statement.
Earlier this week, Russia’s top diplomat commended White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s remark that Russia is preparing an excuse to invade Ukraine as “complete disinformation.”
Geneva talks aimed at defusing tensions wrap up
Blinken and Lavrov met on Friday in Geneva where they held talks over the Ukraine crisis and progress on Russia’s security guarantee proposals that were rolled out in December.
The first outline of the Russia-US agreement was issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry on December 17, 2021.
Blinken promised that Washington would submit a written response to the proposals next week.
“I told him (Lavrov) that following the consultations that we’ll have in the coming days with allies and partners, we anticipate that we will be able to share with Russia our concerns and ideas in more detail and in writing next week, and we agreed to further discussions after that,” Blinken said.
Lavrov has called on the West to end the “anti-Russia hysteria” after the meeting and criticised what he said was a “Russophobic minority” setting the tone. He claimed Russia “has never threatened Ukrainian people.”
The Russian Foreign Minister added that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “always ready” to talk to United States President Joe Biden.
Despite no breakthroughs being expected from Friday’s talks, Blinken said the conversation with his counterpart was “frank and substantive” and that he believes the two countries are now on “a clear path to understanding”.
After Washington submits its written response to the security proposals, further meetings will be scheduled between Lavrov and Blinken in February, a source in the Russian diplomatic delegation told Sputnik.
US delivers response to Russia on security requests
United States Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered his government’s written response to Moscow’s proposals for security guarantees.
“On 26 January, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko received US Ambassador John Sullivan at the latter’s request. In the course of the meeting, the head of the US diplomatic mission handed Grushko the written response of the US administration on the draft bilateral treaty on security guarantees submitted earlier by the Russian side,” the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced on Telegram.
The US document establishes “a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it,” Sullivan claimed at a press conference, adding that US is “ready either way.”
Lavrov says “no positive reaction from US”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Thursday (Jan. 27) that the United States did not have a “positive reaction” regarding the question of NATO’s eastward expansion.
“On the main question in this document (from the US), there is no positive reaction. The main question is our clearly stated position about the admissibility of further expansion of NATO to the east and deployment of strike weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation,” the top diplomat said.
With reporting by TASS, DW, Reuters, Sputnik News, Al Jazeera, Haaretz