Will NATO engage with Russia’s security demands? | NATO News

Brussels, Belgium – Foreign policy experts have waited predictably over the past week, as US and NATO officials met with their Russian counterparts to discuss avoiding the crisis over Ukraine.

Three high-stakes meetings have been held in European cities, described as crucial to geopolitics, following last month’s talks between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

At Wednesday’s NATO-Russia Council meeting, which took place after more than two years in Brussels, officials spoke of the importance of dialogue for disarmament and missile deployment.

But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at a press conference: “There are big differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues. It will not be easy to overcome our differences.”

Despite massing troops on its border with Ukraine, Moscow rejects allegations from Kiev and Western powers that it is planning an invasion. Instead, the Kremlin blames NATO for undermining the region’s security, and has sent a list of security demands to Washington — most of which have already been described as “uninitiated.”

Essentially, Russia wants NATO and its allies to prevent Ukraine and the former Soviet Union from joining the alliance.

It also called on NATO to reduce its activities in Eastern Europe.

Fabrice Potheer, chief strategy officer at the global policy group Rasmussen, named after its founder, former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said negotiating with the Kremlin has always been a challenge to the alliance.

“It is very difficult for NATO to do anything that does not protect its interests and values, starting with the territorial integrity of its allies,” he told Al Jazeera.

“NATO can compromise on transparency, how its allies inform each other about military exercises, and about the placement of certain sensitive weapons systems along borders. But after that, NATO will never budge.”

The Western-led push for diplomacy intensified after nearly 100,000 Russian troops were spotted along the Ukraine-Russia border at the end of last year.

In addition to the NATO event in Brussels, US and Russian officials discussed the crisis on Monday in Geneva and the week ended in Vienna, with a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest security body. .

After the NATO-Russia Council meeting, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman bemoaned that “there is no commitment to de-escalation.”

She added that Russia may not be ready yet on how to proceed.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow had made it clear to NATO members that the situation had become “unbearable for Russia”.

At a press conference in Brussels, Grushko condemned NATO’s expansion in Eastern European countries.

Expansion does not solve the security problem. Expansion only moves the dividing lines and does not remove them.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also adopted a tough tone, saying he had run out of patience and that NATO and the United States should respond to his demand within days.

Oleg Ignatov, senior Russia analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Washington and the West cannot find common ground with Russia because they do not understand the logic behind the Russian proposals.

“Russia does not want to see Ukraine as a neutral country, but as a friendly country,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that Ukraine was not the only issue of importance to the Kremlin.

This is also about how Russia wants to position itself in the world. So this is a geopolitical struggle that focuses on Russia’s position and vision.”

Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Zbigniew Rau and the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe began Thursday’s meeting in Austria by saying that the risk of war in the OSCE region is now greater than at any time in the past 30 years.

Speaking to Russia’s Dozhd TV channel, Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said: “I don’t think there will be any tangible results this week. Our main goal, in principle, is to establish a dialogue.”

With the week ending without a unilateral solution, Mykola Beliskov, an analyst at Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies, said support from NATO and the West would be essential in preserving the country’s sovereignty.

If we look at Ukraine and Russia only, of course, Russia is stronger. But with the support of NATO, our Western allies, and our own efforts, we have been able to chart a course for deterrence and resilience.”

But Ivana Stradner, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who works on Russia and cybersecurity, explained that while NATO expanded its presence in Ukraine and other eastern and central European countries after the Cold War, today’s threats are different.

“Russia was waging an advanced form of hybrid warfare in Ukraine, and Moscow launched disinformation campaigns across Europe,” she told Al Jazeera.

NATO’s strength must be measured by its success in confronting Russia in the gray zone. Deterring hybrid warfare is not an easy task but NATO should deploy counter-hybrid support teams in Eastern Europe.”

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As the crisis unfolds on European soil, some EU diplomats say they are sidelined when big decisions are made about Ukraine.

There is no security in Europe without the security of Ukraine. “It is clear that any discussion of European security must include the EU and Ukraine,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told reporters after visiting the front line in Ukraine in early January.

European Parliament Member Viola von Cramon-Topadel said the weak EU presence at the talks is not surprising.

“The problem with the EU is not that it is actively taking a back seat, but that we still do not have a coherent and unified foreign policy towards Russia. Some EU countries choose to be neutral towards Russia. This leads to delayed statements on our part, which I regret.”

Looking ahead, Ignatov said people in the frontline area are still in danger.

“People along the border don’t think about geopolitics. Ending the war is their priority. Unfortunately, they don’t have a voice at the diplomatic table. Their interests must be met immediately,” he told Al Jazeera.

Stradner added that while the European Union, the United States and NATO are keen to keep talking to Russia, “Western leaders often show strong words backed by weak actions. The Dialogue – Reforms for All approach has never worked in Russia and will not work now.”

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