NATO chief warns of “real risk of armed conflict” after talks with Russia
NATO said on Wednesday it was ready to discuss arms control and missile deployments with Russia, but would not allow Moscow to veto Ukraine’s ambition to join the alliance. , warning of a real risk of a new war in Europe.
Moscow forced the West to the negotiating table this week by massing some 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, a former Soviet republic aspiring to join NATO.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after four hours of talks between Alliance ambassadors and a Russian delegation in Brussels that NATO would not let Moscow dictate security arrangements to other countries and create dangerous spheres of influence.
“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 resolve, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia have sat around the same table and engaged on substantive issues.”
WATCH | Room for negotiation, but plenty of “red lines” for NATO, a former CBC official told CBC:
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.
Stoltenberg said any Russian use of force against Ukraine would be a serious political mistake for which Russia would pay a high price.
He said NATO could deploy additional troops to its eastern allies if Russia again resorts to force against Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula it captured in 2014.
He reiterated NATO’s position that only Ukraine and NATO can decide whether Ukraine becomes a member – a prospect that NATO had promised, in principle, as early as 2008.
However, Stoltenberg said NATO was ready to continue talks with Moscow on issues such as arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures. Russia had asked for time to come back with an answer on this matter, he added.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who headed the Moscow delegation, has yet to brief reporters.
Former Soviet republics, now NATO members, consider deployments
Stoltenberg’s remarks made it clear that there had been no breakthroughs in the talks, which took place two days after Russian and US diplomats met in Geneva and did not signal any narrowing of their differences.
Russia accused the West of failing to understand the urgency of its demands and said it was not prepared to let the negotiations drag on.
He says NATO’s enlargement from 16 members at the end of the Cold War to 30 today – including a large group of ex-communist states in Central and Eastern Europe – poses a threat to its security and he must now draw “red lines” to protect himself.
Meanwhile, the Baltic states are discussing with NATO allies increasing military deployments on their soil to deter Russia, the Estonian prime minister told Reuters on Wednesday.
WATCH | US and Russian diplomats launch week-long talks on Ukraine and NATO issues:
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, once ruled by Moscow, have been members of both NATO and the European Union since 2004, and have long sought to become more involved in NATO.
“Of course, we are discussing with our allies to increase their presence here in order to have a deterrent effect,” Latvian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told Reuters in a video interview from Tallinn, without giving any details.
“If you look at the map, the Baltic states are a NATO peninsula and so we have our concerns.”
NATO units were deployed to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.