Russia, NATO Meet Over Ukraine Impasse

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The first talks between the coalition and Moscow since 2019 come amid pessimism about a quick solution

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Russia has gathered thousands of troops around Ukraine and is demanding that the coalition give a binding guarantee that it will not offer membership to Ukraine and Georgia, two former Soviet republics that Moscow considers part of its sphere of influence. NATO has said since 2008 that the two former Soviet republics would eventually become members, but is in no hurry to give them an immediate way into the alliance.

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NATO maintains that membership is a matter for the alliance and potential members to decide. US officials have said they are ready to talk to Russia about missile deployment, along with mutual sanctions on the size and scope of military exercises in Europe.

“Russian action has led to this crisis,” Julian Smith, the US ambassador to NATO, told reporters on Tuesday. “NATO is open and committed to a meaningful, reciprocal dialogue with Russia, but at the same time we are united in preventing threats against NATO allies and Russian aggression against our allies in Europe.”

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A Kremlin spokesman said President Vladimir Putin was not giving an ultimatum but was concerned about threats to Russia’s security.

“Undoubtedly, any expansion of NATO has to do with Russia,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday. “NATO is an instrument of confrontation” that presents a threat to Russia, he said.

Russia says it wants big changes and rapidity. Among its demands is that the coalition level activities back before joining former Warsaw Pact members—such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

NATO allies have called such demands unacceptable. They say they intend to raise concerns about Russian cyber attacks and election interference in the US and Europe.

Russia has long sought to prevent Ukraine from integrating with NATO and the European Union, and has sought to bind with Moscow instead. After street protests overthrew a pro-Russian president in Ukraine, Mr Putin sent troops to seize Crimea in 2014 and take control of his neighbor’s east of the region with a covert military intervention.

NATO allies have provided Ukraine with military weapons, equipment and training, prompting Russia to complain that the coalition wants to turn the country into an anti-Russian proxy.

Russia on Tuesday conducted live-fire exercises involving tanks and troops near Ukraine’s borders. Kremlin spokesman Mr Peskov said he was not involved in the talks.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that he looked forward to agreeing a way forward for further talks. Diplomats fear Russia could use the slowdown in talks as an excuse to launch a fresh invasion of Ukraine if it does not get what it is seeking.

“We have nothing to offer them,” said a European diplomat in NATO. “The only hope is to put the Russians on the table.”

America has emphasized unity with its allies in Europe.

“The United States remains in lockstep with all of our allies and partners,” Ms Smith said.

But there are divisions. Diplomats said the Allies had not been warned about America’s thinking about restricting military exercises before they appeared in the press. Former NATO members are concerned that President Biden may be willing to make concessions to Putin that could further fuel the Russian president’s appetite.

Write James Marson at [email protected]

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