NATO said on Wednesday it was willing to discuss arms control and missile deployments with Russia to avoid the risk of war in Europe, but Moscow said the situation was “very dangerous” and the way forward. to follow was unclear.
The chasm between Russia’s position and that of the United States and its allies appeared sharper than ever after four hours of talks in Brussels, the second attempt this week to defuse a crisis sparked by the gathering of Russian troops near its border with Ukraine.
Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said the alliance was willing to hold arms talks but would not allow Moscow to veto the ambition of the Ukraine to join NATO one day – a fundamental demand on which Russia says it will not give in.
“There is a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe,” Stoltenberg told a news conference. “There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia,” he said. “Our differences will not be easy to bridge.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow was ready to talk about weapons deployment and verification measures, but would not allow his proposals to be selected.
In a lengthy press conference, Grushko said Russia could not take seriously NATO’s claim to be a defensive alliance that posed no threat to it, adding that it would respond symmetrically to any attempt to restrain or intimidate her.
“If there is a search for vulnerabilities in the Russian defense system, then there will also be a search for vulnerabilities within NATO,” he said.
“It is not our choice, but there will be no other course if we cannot reverse the current very dangerous course of events.”
Risks of ignoring Russian proposals, according to the minister
Grushko later said that Moscow would use military means to neutralize security threats if diplomacy proved insufficient.
The Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin as saying that NATO’s “ignorance” of Russian security proposals created the risk of “incidents and conflicts”.
This week’s talks – beginning with a Russian-American meeting in Geneva on Monday, which is due to continue on Thursday in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – come at one of the most difficult times in relations between the East -West since the Cold War.
Russia denies plans to invade Ukraine, but says it needs a series of guarantees for its own security, including a halt to further NATO expansion and the withdrawal of alliance forces from countries from Central and Eastern Europe who joined after the Cold War.
US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated that these demands were “not valid”.
Sherman told reporters it was hard to understand why a nuclear-armed Russia felt threatened by its much smaller neighbor and why it was conducting live-fire exercises near its border with Ukraine.
“Is it about invasion? Is it about intimidation? Is it about trying to be subversive? I don’t know, but it’s not conducive to diplomatic solutions,” she said.
Russia did not commit to defuse, Sherman said, nor did it say it would not.
Despite the gulf in positions, Stoltenberg said it was positive that the 30 NATO allies and Russia had “seated around the same table and engaged on substantive issues”.
Grushko said he did not recall such a heated and frank discussion with NATO. He said progress was possible, but there were areas where Russia could not back down.
Moscow wanted written responses from NATO on its proposals and to know from the alliance how it would implement them or – if not – why it could not, he said.