New Delhi: Senior NATO and Russian officials met Wednesday in an attempt to defuse the Ukraine tensions over Russia deploying troops near its border.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko at the NATO headquarters in Brussels where the latter listed his country’s demands to NATO’s 30 allies for security guarantees in Europe, news agency Reuters reported.
Washington believes Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine, and has been making an effort to prevent it. Moscow has denied any such plan on its part, but it has a history of military action in Ukraine and Georgia, and that worries NATO, an AP report said.
Across Ukraine’s Eastern border, Russian troops are loaded with tanks, artillery and heavy equipment.
The AP report said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security proposals to ease tensions have been met with doubts if they are genuine.
Russia, however, insisted the demands were not ultimatums.
“We are not negotiating from a position of strength; there is not, and nor can there be, any place for ultimatums here,” Reuters quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying in Moscow as the Brussels talks were getting underway.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the US team was headed by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin was also representing Russia, along with Grushko.
According to the AP report, there was no public handshake, but the Russian delegation fist-bumped officials from NATO.
“It is a timely opportunity for dialogue at a critical moment for European security. When tensions are high, it is even more important that we sit down around the same table and address our concerns,” Stoltenberg tweeted.
Today’s meeting of the #NATO–#Russia Council is underway. It is a timely opportunity for dialogue at a critical moment for European security. When tensions are high, it is even more important that we sit down around the same table and address our concerns. pic.twitter.com/Ek8ey05aGL
– Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) January 12, 2022
Commenting on the meeting, US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement: “Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with European External Action Service Secretary-General Stefano Sannino today in Brussels. The Deputy Secretary and Secretary-General reaffirmed the United States’ and EU’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He added: “They discussed our united approach to Russia’s unprovoked military build-up along Ukraine’s borders.”
The NATO-Russia Council set up two decades ago is the chief platform for such talks. Their full meetings were paused in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The meeting is a first of its kind since 2019, the AP report said.
In its list of demands, Russia has said it would pledge to limit its war games, and end hostilities such as aircraft buzzing incidents if NATO agrees to halt all its membership plans, not only with Ukraine, and scale down its presence in Estonia and other countries close to Russia’s borders, according to the AP report.
“These are completely unacceptable proposals,” Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet told public broadcaster ERR ahead of the talks. Its NATO membership provides Estonia with US security guarantees.
If NATO were to agree to Russia’s terms, they would have to reject the 1949 Washington Treaty that says “the organization can invite in any willing European country that can contribute to security in the North Atlantic area and fulfil the obligations of membership”.
Talks will continue in Vienna this week at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is a broader body where Russia, the US and European nations are represented.