NATO has warned Moscow to abandon its belligerent foreign policy and cooperate with the West or face a conflict-ridden military alliance on the eve of a week of intense diplomacy aimed at repelling a Russian attack on Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the US-led defense treaty was prepared for “a new armed conflict in Europe” should negotiations fail as Western officials prepared for possible talks with Moscow over size reduction of military exercises, arms control and a promise not to deploy US missiles in Ukraine.
“I am aware of Russia’s history. For centuries, they have experienced conflict with neighbors, “he told the Financial Times. “[But] Russia has an alternative: to work together, to work with NATO. “
Russia has deployed about 100,000 troops in places near its border with Ukraine in recent months, raising fears that it is planning a new attack on a country that invaded it in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea.
President Vladimir Putin has denied any plans to invade. But he warned against possible military action if the US and NATO ignored Moscow’s demands for new defense agreements which will severely reduce the capabilities of the US and NATO in Europe. Russia claims those capabilities are a threat to its borders.
“It is possible to find a way together, a political way forward, and also to address Russia’s concerns. . . But there is still a risk of conflict, “Stoltenberg said in an interview. “NATO’s deterrence is credible and strong. . . We must hope and work hard for the best, but be prepared for the worst. ”
His warning comes ahead of formal talks between Russian and US officials on Monday in Geneva, followed by a meeting of the 30-member NATO alliance and a Russian delegation on Wednesday. A third meeting hosted by the broader Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe will be held on Thursday.
Russia’s demands include a ban on Ukraine and other countries joining NATO and a Kremlin veto on alliance activities in member states that joined after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Stoltenberg said both was unacceptable because they violated NATO’s “core principles” of offering membership to all and defending allies equally.
Instead, Stoltenberg said the US and NATO were prepared to talk to Russia about possible risk mitigation measures “such as arms control, about efforts to try to have more transparency about military activities, exercises and also about lines of communication”.
To exclude U.S. missile deployment in Ukraine and discuss broader rules on missile systems in Europe were two areas where Washington saw potential room for agreement, a senior Biden administration official said before the talks, adding that it would be dependent of whether “Russia is willing” to make a reciprocal commitment “.
The US was also “willing to consider the possibility of reciprocal restrictions on the size and scope of [military] exercises, including both strategic bombers near each other’s territory, as well as ground-based exercises “, the official said, adding that” no firm commitments “will be made in Geneva.
Washington has vehemently denied media reports that it could offer to withdraw some troops stationed in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russia scaling down its deployment at the Ukrainian border. Instead, officials said the US and other NATO allies were ready to increase that presence if Putin took any military action.
The US, EU and other Western partners have also warned that they will impose financial and economic sanctions on Russia in the event of military escalation, which Western officials say will have “massive consequences and severe costs” for Moscow.
While the Kremlin has expressed hope for quick solutions from the talks, Stoltenberg said he expects it will take “a series of meetings” to find any mutually acceptable outcomes.
“We are ready to strive for a better relationship,” the former Norwegian prime minister said. “We have proven before that we are capable of compromising and finding solutions with Russia.”