Nato and Russia in high-level talks as Ukraine tensions simmer

12 January 2022, 11:04

Ukraine Russia
Ukraine Russia. Picture: PA

The meeting comes amid deep scepticism that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security proposals for easing tensions are genuine.

Senior Nato and Russian officials are meeting to try to bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences over the future of Ukraine, amid deep scepticism that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security proposals for easing tensions are genuine.

The talks comes during a week of high-stakes diplomacy and a US-led effort to prevent preparations for what Washington believes could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow denies it is planning an attack, but its history of military action in Ukraine and Georgia worries Nato.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Sergei Savostyanov/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP)

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko and deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin were stern-faced as they posed for the media before the Nato-Russia Council.

There was no public handshake, although the Russian delegation fist-bumped officials from the 30 Nato member countries inside the meeting venue.

Deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman led the US team at Nato headquarters in Brussels.

Mr Stoltenberg tweeted that “it is a timely opportunity for dialogue at a critical moment for European security”.

The meeting is the first of its kind in more than two years.

The Nato-Russia Council, the chief forum for talks, was set up two decades ago but full meetings paused when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. It has met only sporadically since, the last time in July 2019.

With around 100,000 combat-ready Russian troops backed by tanks, artillery and heavy equipment massed just across Ukraine’s eastern border, Wednesday’s gathering has taken on great significance, yet it still seems destined to fail.

“These are completely unacceptable proposals,” Estonian defence minister Kalle Laanet told public broadcaster ERR on the eve of the talks.

Estonia, like its Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania, relies on US security guarantees provided by its membership in Nato.

Ukraine Russia
A Ukrainian soldier in the Donetsk region (Andriy Dubchak/AP)

Mr Putin says Russia’s demands are simple, but key parts of proposals that Moscow has made public — a draft agreement with Nato countries and the offer of a treaty between Russia and the US — will not pass muster at the 30-country military organisation.

Nato would have to agree to halt all membership plans, not just with Ukraine, and scale down its presence in countries close to Russia’s borders, like Estonia.

In exchange, Russia would pledge to limit its war games, as well as end aircraft buzzing incidents and other low-level hostilities.

Endorsing such an agreement would require Nato to reject a key part of its founding treaty. Under Article 10 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, the organisation can invite in any willing European country that can contribute to security in the North Atlantic area and fulfil the obligations of membership.

“It has become crystal clear that not a single ally inside the Nato alliance is willing to budge or negotiate anything as it relates to Nato’s open door policy,” said Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to Nato. “I cannot imagine any scenario where that is up for discussion.”

Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that this week’s talks have provided little reason for optimism. He said the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting, and one at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Thursday, could determine whether it makes sense to continue talking.

By Press Association

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