By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
Wednesday’s high-level gathering of the NATO-Russia Council was the first meeting of its kind in over two years. The forum was created two decades ago, but full sessions paused when Russia annexed Ukraine was the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
The talks come during a week of diplomacy and a U.S.-led effort to prevent preparations for what Washington believes could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Russia’s ambassador to Britain, Andrei Kelin, denies Moscow plans an attack. “We have no intention to do that. So it means we have no intention to do that at all,” Kelin said when asked about a possible Russian invasion.
“And it has been said [about Russia not intending to invade] on different levels, of course. Many are saying that NATO is the security arrangement for Europe now. This is not true. NATO is one factor of security. The other factor of security, this is Russia,” he stressed.
However, with around 100,000 combat-ready Russian troops backed by tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment massed near Ukraine’s eastern border, not everyone is convinced.
Russia says tensions could ease if the NATO alliance stops expanding eastwards and invites new members, especially Ukraine.
But U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reaffirmed Wednesday that any European country should have the right to join NATO if it wants to.
That’s why Wednesday’s gathering took on great significance, yet it still seemed destined to fail.
Other U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva, Switzerland, didn’t make noticeable progress this week, adding concerns about a new East-West standoff.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, and Deputy Defense Minister Alexander
Fomin was stern-faced before the talks.
Although witnesses said the Russian delegation fist-bumped officials from the 30 NATO member countries inside the meeting venue, there was no public handshake.
Moscow offered de-escalation measures to NATO, Fomin claimed later, but the alliance “ignored them.”
Asked about the suspension of Russia’s diplomatic mission to NATO, Grushko blamed the decision on the alliance’s “unfriendly” actions. “If NATO chooses a different course […], then I would not rule out that our mission would be restored,” he stressed.
Stoltenberg acknowledged that “differences will not be easy to bridge.”
Yet, he added, “it is a positive sign that all 30 NATO allies sat down with Russia after two years.”
And despite their differences, NATO and Russia expressed the need for further dialogue, specifically about arms control and missile deployment, Stoltenberg said.