VIDEONo substantive result, but new talks: that is the meager but at the same time hopeful outcome this afternoon of the eagerly anticipated first NATO/Russia meeting in 2.5 years. The two blocs’ agreement to continue talks may remove the acute threat of another incursion into Ukraine, which for weeks has watched in fear as Russia mobilizes tanks, artillery and more than 100,000 ready-to-battle troops on its eastern border.
,,The big differences between us are not easy to bridge, but that is precisely why it is positive that everyone was at the table today. That was not possible for almost three years,” said NATO chief executive Jens Stoltenberg afterwards. He called the meeting “helpful” and welcomed the fact that both sides are ready to discuss further in the coming weeks and months. But there can be no question of granting the Russian demands, he immediately made clear.
NATO will not promise to stop expansion, nor will it withdraw troops from Central and Eastern European member states. As far as she is concerned, the scope for discussion lies in new agreements about greater transparency about (major) military exercises, risk reduction through more consultation in advance and limitation of harmful activities in the field of space and cyber.
Watch an interview with correspondent Frans Boogaard about the consultation below. The text continues below the video.
NATO also wants to reopen the former ‘civil and military communication channels’ by mutually allowing diplomatic offices. They haven’t been around for a few years now. “We want a solution, but we are not going to give in to our core values,” warned Stoltenberg, who left no doubt about the tense situation the two blocs are now in. He went on to mention ‘new proposals’ and ‘detailed discussions’ that ‘should help in the search for a solution’ in a continued dialogue.
In the run-up to today’s talks, both parties have dug deep into their own great right. Moscow sees a direct threat to its own national security in Ukraine’s increasingly western orientation and is therefore demanding a declaration from NATO that Ukraine and Georgia will ‘never, ever’ become NATO members. That demand clashes head on with NATO’s ‘open door policy’. It cannot promise that Ukraine and Georgia will ‘never’ become NATO members because for it each sovereign and democratic country decides for itself which supranational bodies it wishes to join – after which that body then of course decides itself on actual accession.
For Ukraine and Georgia, both formerly part of the Soviet Union, the door to NATO accession was opened in 2008 – first wide, later a crack – much to Putin’s anger, who in 2008 had first opened the Georgian Abkhazia and South -Invaded Ossetia, and six years later Ukraine annexed Crimea and began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. In recent weeks, Ukraine and the west have increasingly feared another Russian invasion, according to Stoltenberg, due to a combination of the unannounced and unmotivated mass build-up, Russia’s harsh rhetoric and aggressive actions in the past.
Russia itself says that there are no plans for a (new) invasion, and that it is only conducting a military exercise on its own territory, which is also urgently needed to repel a possible attack by Ukraine, supported by the west. Meanwhile, the Russian people are fed up with stories of NATO aggression, which is swallowing up one Central and Eastern European country after another. Many of those countries used to be part of the Warsaw Pakt, then a kind of NATO of the communist Eastern bloc.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who spoke bilaterally with the Russians for eight hours about Ukraine earlier this week, called the Russian demands (no new NATO expansion, troops removed from Eastern Europe) ‘non-starters’: We are not going back to 1997.”
She said she hopes Russia will move at least some of its troops along the Ukrainian border pending further talks. “Everyone has to go home now for consultation. I hope that the Russian president will understand, once his deputy ministers have reported to him, that diplomacy is the right way and that he chooses de-escalation. Troops, propaganda and disinformation will not help diplomacy succeed.”
It was difficult to understand that Ukraine as a ‘small, emerging democracy’ could pose a threat to Russia – a permanent member of the Security Council, with Europe’s largest conventional army and, together with America, a super-nuclear power. Stoltenberg also reiterated that the Russian fear of aggression from Ukraine or NATO was completely misplaced. “Russia is the aggressor. And Russia must ensure de-escalation.”
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