The differences between Russia and NATO over Ukraine will be difficult to bridge, the head of the Atlantic coalition said on Wednesday after four hours of talks, where Moscow insisted on its demands for security guarantees from the West.
“There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
“Bridging our differences will not be easy, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia have sat down at the same table and engaged on real topics.”
Russia has forced the West to the negotiating table by gathering some 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that wants to join NATO.
It denies plans to invade but says it needs a series of guarantees for its security, including preventing any further NATO expansion and alliances from Central and Eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War. Including the withdrawal of forces.
Stoltenberg said any use of Russian forces against Ukraine would be a serious political mistake for which Russia would pay a heavy price.
He reiterated NATO’s position that only Ukraine and NATO can decide whether to become a member or not.
Stoltenberg, however, said NATO is ready for further talks with Moscow on issues including arms control and missile deployment. He said that Russia had sought time to come back to respond to this.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who led the Moscow delegation, was later to speak briefly to reporters.
Stoltenberg’s remarks made it clear that there had been no breakthrough in the talks, which came two days after Russian and US diplomats met in Geneva and reported their differences had not diminished.
Russia has accused the West of failing to appreciate the urgency of its demands, and said it was unwilling to allow talks to drag on indefinitely.
It says that NATO’s expansion from 16 members now to 30 at the end of the Cold War – which includes a large group of ex-communist states in Central and Eastern Europe – threatens its security and is now referred to as “red lines”. “Need to pull protect yourself.
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