BRUSSELS – With close to 100,000 Russian troops gathered near Ukraine’s borders, NATO officials on Wednesday opened talks with a Russian delegation in an attempt to quell an invasion and calm tensions between Moscow and the West.
The meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels is the second stop in a diplomatic roadshow focusing on the Kremlin, following talks in Geneva on Monday between Russian and US officials. What threatens high-level diplomacy is whether Russian President Vladimir V. Putin will invade Ukraine as he tries to pressure the West to roll back NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe, or de-escalate.
The United States and its NATO allies are hoping that Mr Putin will decide to negotiate, as he now faces threats to punish economic sanctions and even new deployments of NATO allies bordering Russia.
NATO officials are not optimistic, and they question the seriousness of Moscow’s commitment to a diplomatic resolution. Still, they say there are issues of European security that could be discussed with Russia, including nuclear stockpiles, missile deployment, restrictions on conventional forces in Europe, better security at sea and in the air and more transparency around military exercises.
NATO has flatly rejected Russian demands to stop further enlargement with countries wishing to join the alliance, and to withdraw all Allied troops from NATO members bordering Russia. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, although the alliance promised in 2008 that it would one day.
The meeting in Brussels, chaired by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, is expected to last at least three hours. The Russian delegation will be led by a Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander V. Grushko, who was Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO from 2012 to 2018.
It is formally a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, set up in 2002 to discuss mutual security issues, but which has been essentially dying since April 2014 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
The US delegation will be led by Wendy R. Sherman, the Deputy Secretary of State who led the US side in Geneva, along with military aides and Julianne Smith, the new US Ambassador to NATO.
NATO has 30 members, and so in a way the meeting is 30 against one. But NATO officials say they intend to listen and respond to Russian complaints and suggestions.
They also plan to detail NATO complaints about Russia’s violations of previous agreements such as the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and the Treaty on Intermediate Nuclear Missiles in Europe. Both pacts can be renegotiated in favor of both sides.
NATO officials stress that they want to maintain focus on Russia’s large and continued military build-up around Ukraine, rather than on Russia’s desire to force a renegotiation of the post – Cold War security architecture in Europe.
After Monday’s negotiations, Sergei A. Ryabkov, who led the Russian side, denied that Russia had any intention of a new military invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, Mr Ryabkov warned that if the West did not agree with Russia’s demand to withdraw NATO’s footprint in Eastern Europe and reject any future membership of Ukraine, it would face unspecified consequences that would jeopardize the “security of all Europe” continent. ” in danger.
While Mr Putin is most interested in the bilateral discussions with the US and regards both NATO and the EU as subordinate to US wishes and decisions, the Biden administration has received good marks from its allies and partners, including Ukraine, in trying to keep them informed. all stages of the conversations.