NATO said on Wednesday it was ready 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 to follow was unclear.
The rift between Russia’s position and that of the United States and its allies has become sharper than ever after four hours of talks in Brussels, the second attempt this week to defuse a crisis sparked by the Russian troop rally 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 said at a press 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 its proposals to be handpicked.
In a lengthy press conference, Grushko said Russia could not take NATO’s claim to be a defensive alliance that would not threaten it seriously, adding that it would respond symmetrically to any attempt to contain it. or intimidate him.
“If there is a search for vulnerabilities in the Russian defense system, then there will also be a search for vulnerabilities in NATO,” he said.
“It is not our choice, but there will be no other way if we fail to reverse the current very dangerous course of events.”
Risks of ignoring Russian proposals, according to Minister
Grushko later said 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 a risk of “incidents and conflicts”.
This week’s talks – which begin with a Russian-American meeting in Geneva on Monday, which will continue in Vienna on Thursday at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – come at one of the most tense moments in relations 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 stopping any further NATO expansion and withdrawing Alliance forces from Central and Eastern European countries which joined after the Cold War.
US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated that these requests were “unfounded”.
Sherman told reporters that it was difficult to understand why a nuclear-weapon Russia felt threatened by its much smaller neighbor and why it conducted live-fire exercises near its border with Ukraine.
“Is it a question of invasion? Is it a question of intimidation? Is it an attempt to be subversive? I don’t know, but it is not conducive to diplomatic solutions,” he said. she declared.
Russia had made no commitment to de-escalation, Sherman said, nor had it said it would not.
Despite the divide between positions, Stoltenberg said it was positive that all 30 NATO allies and Russia had “come together around the same table and engaged on substantive issues.”
Grushko said he did not recall such a clear and frank discussion with NATO. He said progress was possible, but there were some 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 couldn’t, he said.