NATO-Russia Council: Ukraine crisis: The signs point to confrontation

Brussels With a serious, almost gloomy face, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg appeared in front of the press on Wednesday. He reported on a “difficult discussion” between the Alliance and Russia, on a “decisive moment for European security” and on “significant differences”. It will not be easy to bridge these differences, warned Stoltenberg.

And yet there seems to be a slight easing of tension in the dispute with Russia over Ukraine. Even the fact that NATO and the leadership in Moscow are talking to each other again at all can be seen as a positive sign.

The meeting, which was attended by government members Alexander Fomin and Alexander Gruschko on the Russian side, was the first of its kind in two years. The Americans were also well represented. Vice Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led the US delegation. Sherman met her Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov in Geneva on Monday. Further talks with Russia are planned for Thursday at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.

Admittedly, there have hardly been any approximations in the matter so far. At the NATO headquarters in Brussels, the Russians repeated their demand that NATO stop accepting new countries and withdraw military equipment from Eastern Europe. NATO does not want to accommodate Moscow on these fundamental points. “For their part, the allies have reaffirmed the open door policy and the right of all nations to make their own security arrangements,” emphasized Stoltenberg. Furthermore, the allies had made it clear that they were not prepared to compromise on defense capabilities, “including the ability to station troops in the eastern part of the alliance”.

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Nevertheless, both sides had confirmed their interest in a further dialogue. Therefore, the possibility of further meetings should now be examined. After all. This is not a breakthrough, for a long time, but more than was to be expected after the mutual threatening gestures of the past few weeks.

Moscow is demanding security guarantees from NATO

Russia has gathered around 100,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine. The West fears an invasion, which the government in Moscow rejects. Moscow continues to demand security guarantees from NATO. After the four-hour talks, Stoltenberg emphasized that NATO was sticking to its principles and that they were not negotiable. The alliance is not an attack alliance, and expanding its members is not pursuing an aggressive strategy.

In the event that Putin actually allows his troops to move into Ukraine, Michael Roth (SPD), Chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, calls for harsh sanctions – he is even putting the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline up for grabs. “In the event of a further escalation through Russia, Nord Stream 2 should also be on the negotiating table in addition to other options,” said Roth in an interview with Handelsblatt. “Nord Stream has always been a political project as well.”

Germany would have neglected to “always include the pipeline in a pan-European energy policy strategy”. So far, his party had always defended the controversial pipeline. Chancellor Scholz recently described Nord Stream 2 as a “private-sector project”. Roth now openly questioned that.

Nord Stream 2 is not only very important for Russia for economic reasons, it is also a prestige object of Putin. In addition to shutting down Russia from Swift, which is essential for international payments, the pipeline could be a very important sanctions tool.

Scientist: Moscow and Washington are completely at odds with one another

It cannot be ruled out that it will be used. Because despite all the conversations this week – a move away from the maximum position of both sides is not foreseeable. The influential Moscow political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov sees no rapprochement whatsoever and almost irreconcilable differences between Russia and the West. “Since they were considered an irrevocable axiom for 30 years, their revision is not possible without a sharp shock,” said Lukyanov, who is considered a leading Russian foreign policy expert.

Moscow and Washington are speaking completely at odds with each other: while the US is talking about arms control talks, “it is about the principles of European security, about the revision of what has been accepted since the Cold War,” said Lukyanov. The contradictions currently appeared “insoluble” and “a new and rather dangerous escalation could be required” to reach a solution.

The Russian chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, once again called on NATO to withdraw from the areas that have joined the alliance since 1997. The West should “not underestimate the risks of a military confrontation”. These statements once again fueled fears that, after a week of negotiations, Moscow would not feel that it was being taken seriously and would then take military action against Ukraine, according to security experts in Moscow. Putin had accused NATO of having “fooled and shamelessly betrayed” Russia. However, there are no contractual agreements between Moscow and the West against NATO expansion to the east.

Putin now wants to force that: “You have to give us guarantees. Right now, now, ”he said at the end of December. In a draft treaty sent by Russia to the US, the Kremlin demands that the alliance commit to further non-enlargement, including the accession of Ukraine. Moscow calls on the alliance to refrain from any military activity in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The alliance should not station additional weapons outside of the countries in which they were not stationed before the Eastern European countries joined NATO in 1997.

More: Comment: In the Russian dispute we need tough negotiations – and, if necessary, severe sanctions

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