By LORNE COOK, Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the military organization and Russia had agreed to try to hold more meetings to ease tensions between them, as the West was deeply concerned about whether Moscow might order an invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking after chairing a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, Stoltenberg said the two sides had “expressed the need to resume dialogue and explore a schedule of future meetings.”
He said the 30 NATO countries wish to discuss ways to prevent dangerous military incidents, reduce space and cyber threats, as well as arms control and disarmament, including setting agreed limits on missile deployments. .
But Stoltenberg said any talk about Ukraine would not be easy.
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“There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on this issue,” he told reporters, after what he called a “very serious and direct exchange” with the deputy. Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin.
Stoltenberg stressed that Ukraine has the right to decide for itself on its future security agreements and that NATO will continue to leave its door open to new members, rejecting a key request by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the organization military stops its expansion.
“No one else has anything to say, and of course Russia doesn’t have a veto,” he said.
The NATO-Russia Council was the first meeting of its kind in over two years. The forum was established two decades ago, but plenary meetings were interrupted when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. It has only met sporadically since, most recently in July 2019.
US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also stressed that any European country should have the right to join NATO if they wish.
“I reaffirmed the fundamental principles of the international system and European security: every country has the sovereign right to choose its own path,” Sherman tweeted as the meeting, which lasted more than three hours, drew to a close. .
The talks take place during a week of high-stakes diplomacy and a US-led effort to prevent preparations for what Washington believes to be a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moscow denies planning an attack. Yet its history of military action in Ukraine and Georgia worries NATO.
Russia has around 100,000 combat-ready soldiers backed by tanks, artillery and heavy equipment massed near Ukraine’s eastern border.
Putin says Russia’s demands are straightforward, but key elements of the proposals in documents Moscow has released – a draft deal with NATO countries and the offer of a treaty between Russia and the United States – will not pass the 30 -military organization of the country.
NATO should agree to stop all membership plans, not just with Ukraine, and reduce its presence in countries like Estonia close to Russia’s borders. In return, Russia would pledge to limit its war games, as well as to end incidents of aircraft humming and other low-intensity hostilities.
Approval of such an agreement would require NATO to reject a key element of its founding treaty. Under Article 10 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, the organization can invite to any voluntary European country that can contribute to security in the North Atlantic area and meet membership obligations.
Earlier in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned Russia was waiting for a swift response.
“The situation regarding European security and our national interests has reached a critical point,” Peskov said on a conference call with journalists, and called the organization “an instrument of confrontation.”
“The alliance was conceived as such, and that is how it is organized and is developing today. It’s pretty obvious, so the expansion of this mechanism poses a threat to us, ”he said.
He declined to say what action Russia might take if the talks fail, saying Moscow “would not like to issue threats and ultimatums and warn that others will pay a high price, as US officials do,” he said. Peskov said.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington, and Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.
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