The best outcome of talks between NATO allies and Russia this week could be an agreement simply to hold more meetings in the coming months on Moscow’s threats to the Ukrainian border, the secretary-general warned on Monday. NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.
NATO and Russian officials are meeting on Wednesday in a series of talks this week between Moscow and its Western allies. Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Stoltenberg met with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna on Monday to coordinate their approach.
“I don’t think we can expect these meetings to solve all the problems,” Stoltenberg said, setting expectations at a press conference with Stefanishyna. “What we hope is that we can agree on a way forward. That we can agree on a series of meetings. That we can agree on the process.
Tensions between the West and Moscow are peaking again as Russia has piled up more than 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, raising fears of a possible invasion. Moscow has also issued a series of demands on the United States and NATO which are widely viewed as non-starters for Western allies, including a demand that NATO guarantees that it does not extend further east into Ukraine and Georgia.
US and NATO officials have also stressed that they will not negotiate Ukraine’s fate without Kiev having a direct voice. And Monday’s meeting was intended to demonstrate NATO’s commitment to consult ahead of Wednesday’s high-stakes talks with the Russians.
For its part, Stefanishyna said NATO allies should not heed Russia’s demands until Russian President Vladimir Putin orders the withdrawal of his troops, tanks and other military equipment massed on Russia’s border with Ukraine.
“We must all understand that Russia’s demands on its allies cannot be seen as a negotiating position,” she said.
Russia, she argued, is “the aggressor” and is therefore “not in a position to lay down conditions until the Russian tanks [are] outside the Ukrainian border.
She added: “Discussions on security guarantees should start with the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. “
Yet as Stefanishyna spoke at NATO headquarters in Brussels, US officials were already in Geneva meeting with their Russian counterparts to discuss the situation – conversations that left some Europeans worried about being left behind.
Still, Russia will meet with a wider range of European officials later this week. In addition to Wednesday’s meeting with NATO, representatives from Moscow will attend a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes Ukraine, on Thursday.
Stoltenberg tried to convey optimism about the possibility of a diplomatic solution.
“I have already negotiated with Russia as Norwegian prime minister,” he said. “And I know that it is possible to make deals with Russia.”