No Ukraine breakthrough but Nato and Russia plan more talks

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The US and Nato have rejected key Russian security demands for easing tensions over Ukraine, but left open the possibility of future talks with Moscow to discuss other issues like arms control, missile deployments and ways to prevent military incidents.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that the 30-country military alliance halt its expansion and withdraw troops or military equipment from countries neighbouring Russia like Ukraine, but also Nato allies like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Speaking after a meeting of the Nato-Russia Council, US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman reaffirmed that some of Mr Putin’s security demands “are simply non-starters”.

Wendy Sherman
Wendy Sherman (Olivier Matthys/AP)

“We are not going to agree that Nato cannot expand any further.”

The meeting, the first of its kind in over two years, was called amid concerns in the West that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine, with around 100,000 combat-ready troops, tanks and heavy military equipment massed near Ukraine’s eastern border.

“Escalation does not create optimum conditions for diplomacy, to say the least,” Ms Sherman said.

Moscow denies it has fresh plans to attack its neighbour.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. The fighting there has killed more than 14,000 people in seven years and devastated Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, who chaired the meeting on Wednesday, said Nato nations and Russian envoys “expressed the need to resume dialogue and to explore a schedule of future meetings”.

Ms Sherman also expressed optimism, given that Moscow has not rejected the idea of talks.

Mr Stoltenberg said Nato is keen to discuss ways to prevent dangerous military incidents or accidents and reduce space and cyber threats, as well as to talk about arms control and disarmament, including limits on missile deployments.

But he acknowledged any talks about Ukraine would not be easy.

“There are significant differences between Nato allies and Russia on this issue,” he told reporters, after “a very serious and direct exchange” with Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko and deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin (Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP)

“No one else has anything to say, and of course Russia does not have a veto,” he said.

The Nato-Russia Council was the first meeting of its kind since July 2019. The forum was set up two decades ago but full meetings paused when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. It has met only sporadically since.

Mr Putin says Russia’s demands are simple, but key parts of the proposals in the documents that Moscow has made public — a draft agreement with Nato countries and the offer of a treaty between Russia and the US — were rejected.

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.

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