BRUSSELS ( Associated Press) – Senior NATO and Russian officials are meeting on Wednesday to try to bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences over Ukraine’s future, amid deep suspicion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to ease tensions. The security propositions are genuine.
The meeting comes during a week of high-stakes diplomacy and a US-led effort to prevent preparations for what Washington believes could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moscow denied that it was planning an attack. Still, its history of military action in Ukraine and Georgia worries NATO.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin will lead Moscow’s delegation to the NATO-Russia Council, it has convened for the first time in two years. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will also be at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
This meeting is going to last for about three hours. The NATO-Russia Council, their main forum for talks, was established two decades ago, but plenary meetings stalled when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. Last seen in July 2019, it has only been found sporadically.
Across Ukraine’s eastern border with nearly 100,000 battle-ready Russian troops backed by tanks, artillery and heavy equipment, Wednesday’s gathering has assumed great importance, yet it is still set to fail.
“These are completely unacceptable proposals,” Estonian Defense Minister Kale Lanet told public broadcaster ERR on the eve of the talks.
Estonia, like its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, relies on US security guarantees provided by its membership in NATO. The three Baltic nations were once ruled by the Soviet Union, but are now part of the European Union and NATO.
Putin says Russia’s demands are straightforward, but key parts of proposals contained in documents made public by Moscow – a draft agreement Offering another treaty with NATO countries Will not pass muster in the military organization of 30 countries – between Russia and the United States.
NATO would have to agree to stop all membership plans to reduce its presence not only with Ukraine, but also in countries like Estonia close to Russia’s borders. In return, Russia will pledge to limit its war game as well as end aircraft buzzing incidents and other low-level hostilities.
Supporting such an agreement would require NATO to reject a significant part of its establishment treaty. Under Article 10 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, the Organization may invite any interested European country that can contribute to security in the North Atlantic region and fulfill its membership obligations.
“It has become clear that no ally within the NATO alliance is ready to budge or negotiate as it pertains to NATO’s open-door policy,” Julian Smith, the US ambassador to NATO, said on Tuesday. “I can’t imagine any scenario where this is up for discussion.”
Maksim Samorukov, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, says the lack of any real Russian concession in Putin’s draft agreement probably means that “Russia is prepared to tolerate the failure of these negotiations.”
The idea, Samorukov said, “is to demonstrate to the West that we are serious, we mean business. That Russia is indeed ready to take drastic measures to enforce these concessions on the US-led military organization.”
Nevertheless, NATO cannot afford to ignore Russia’s proposal. Some members fear Putin is seeking excuses to launch an invasion – such as a failure to engage the West – and any talks that would reduce tensions over border forces, missile deployment or war games would be welcome. .
For the Kremlin, however, time is of the essence.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that talks this week have so far given no reason for optimism. He said the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting, and the one at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday, could determine whether it makes sense to continue talking.
Ellen Nickmeyer in Washington and Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia contributed to this report.