There is a “real risk” of a new armed conflict in Europe, warned the Secretary General of NATO.
Jens Stoltenberg was speaking after a meeting in Brussels between the alliance and Russian officials as fears grow that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.
Russia has around 100,000 soldiers near the border with Ukraine, although it denies any plans to invade the former Soviet republic.
Moscow wants a ban on any further expansion of NATOincluding the promise that Ukraine will not be admitted, and the end of the alliance’s activity in the countries of central and eastern Europe which joined it after 1997.
These requests met with a chilly reception from US diplomats in Geneva earlier this week and were not well received by NATO after four hours of talks at the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday.
Mr Stoltenberg said there is a “real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe” but the alliance “will do everything possible to prevent such a scenario”.
He added: “If Russia again uses force against Ukraine and invades Ukraine further, then we must seriously consider the need to further increase our presence in the eastern part of the alliance.”
“Significant differences” between NATO and Russia
“There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia.
“Our differences will not be easily overcome, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia have sat around the same table and engaged on substantive issues.”
Mr Stoltenberg said only Ukraine and NATO can decide whether Ukraine should join.
However, he said the alliance was ready to continue talks with Moscow on issues such as arms control and missile deployments.
Russia’s representative at the talks – its Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko – is due to comment later today.