The US and EU allies are coordinating their stance ahead of the NATO-Russia talks on Ukraine
The United States and its European allies coordinated their position on Tuesday ahead of new NATO-Russia talks to alleviate the Ukrainian border crisis, as Kiev called for an international summit.
Envoys from Washington and Moscow on Monday held incomplete talks in Geneva on how to avert confrontation after Moscow deployed forces near Ukraine and demanded extensive security concessions.
On Wednesday, NATO will renew interrupted contacts with Moscow during a round of talks between senior diplomats from Russia and allied member states at their headquarters in Brussels.
The United States hopes that diplomacy will avert what they see as Russia’s implicit threat to launch a new military invasion of Ukraine – without providing much basis for Russia’s demands.
“It is too early to say whether the Russians are serious about diplomacy or not, or whether they are prepared to negotiate seriously – we are,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
US President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman insisted: “NATO’s relationship with Ukraine is a matter only for Ukraine and its 30 NATO allies, not for other countries to decide.”
But Washington’s European allies are anxious not to be sidelined as President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin seeks to roll back what it sees as the Western world’s invasion after the Cold War on its lawn.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday reiterated his demand that France and Germany join a new international summit between Moscow and Kiev to end the conflict.
The French presidency said the Kremlin had agreed that France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine would hold talks “before the end of January”.
But Ukrainian Presidential Spokesman Sergiy Nykyforov also welcomed “the intentions and efforts of the United States and Russia and NATO and Russia to resolve tensions and resolve all mutual issues at the negotiating table.”
“We trust our partners and their statements that no decision on the fate of Ukraine will be taken behind our backs,” he said in a video statement sent to AFP.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “unity” was the key to what he described as a “Russian ultimatum”.
‘The moment of truth’
US negotiator Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was at NATO headquarters to inform European allies.
She briefed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on his talks in Geneva with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and then met with NATO ambassadors.
“The United States is determined to work in unison with our allies and partners to call for downsizing and to respond to the security crisis caused by Russia,” she tweeted.
With Stoltenberg, Sherman reaffirmed “a united NATO strategy towards Russia, balancing deterrence and dialogue”, and emphasized “our unwavering support for Ukraine”.
After more than seven hours of negotiations in Geneva on Monday, both Russian and American officials offered to continue talking, although there was no breakthrough.
In NATO, Russia will be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who described the meeting as “a moment of truth” in relations between Russia and NATO.
Moscow’s demands include a concrete guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO.
The Allies have long insisted that NATO membership is a matter for sovereign states to decide for themselves and have promised to preserve their open door policy.
And they have threatened with massive economic and financial sanctions against Moscow if its huge troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and in already Russian-occupied Crimea is transformed into a new invasion.
Speaking after Monday’s talks and before returning to Brussels, Grushko insisted: “Our expectations are completely realistic and we hope this will be a serious, deep conversation.”
He said Russia would demand a comprehensive response from the alliance to its demands.
“We will push for a concrete, factual response article by article on the Russian draft guarantee agreement,” he added.
Some “non-beginner” requirements
Sherman said Russia did not offer any evidence that they would not invade or any explanation as to why they had deployed about 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border.
She had offered downsizing, with Washington and Moscow to agree on mutual limits for missile batteries and exercises.
The new US ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, told reporters that the talks could include a “discussion on reciprocal restrictions on exercises”.
She described the broad themes of Wednesday’s talks as “risk reduction, transparency, arms control and the different ways in which we communicate with each other – that is, NATO and Russia.”
Russia has been putting intense pressure on Ukraine since 2014 after a revolution overthrew a government that had sided with the Kremlin to move closer to Europe.
Russia has seized and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea and Moscow supports an uprising in eastern Ukraine in which more than 13,000 people have died.