WASHINGTON - Russia and NATO are meeting Wednesday in Brussels with a focus on reducing tensions along the border between Russia and Ukraine.
NATO objects to Russia troop buildups along the border, saying they undermine European security. For its part, Russia is seeking security guarantees such as limiting the expansion of the 30-member NATO alliance, arguing the inclusion of a country like Ukraine on its border represents a threat.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told reporters ahead of Wednesday's talks that the NATO side is committed to seeing if diplomacy can de-escalate the situation, and that the overall themes of the discussion would be about "risk reduction, transparency, arms control, and various ways in which we communicate with each other."
Smith expressed U.S. solidarity with Ukraine, adding that "Russian actions have precipitated this crisis" and NATO allies were ready to deter further Russian aggression.
"Should Russia follow the path of confrontation and military action, we've made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures," Smith said. "As an Alliance, we are prepared to reinforce NATO's defense on the eastern flank, and we are prepared to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression in Ukraine."
Wednesday's meeting is the second of three opportunities this week for U.S. and European diplomats to speak directly with Russian officials about the situation with Ukraine. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meets Thursday in Vienna.
In Geneva on Monday, U.S. and Russian diplomats held their own session, with both sides signaling afterward no major progress.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday the talks in Geneva were "open, comprehensive and direct," an assessment echoed by Washington. But Peskov said it was the result that ultimately matters.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 23, 2021.
"So far, let's say we see no significant reason for optimism," he said in a conference call with reporters.
Victoria Nuland, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, told reporters Tuesday, "We haven't seen the slightest hint of de-escalation" on Russia's part. "It is Russia that created this crisis out of whole cloth" by deploying 100,000 troops just across from Ukraine's eastern border.
At the Geneva talks, Russia demanded guarantees, rejected by the United States, that NATO halt further eastward expansion toward Russia and curb military deployments in Eastern Europe.
"NATO poses no threat to Russia. It is a defensive alliance whose sole purpose is to protect its members," Nuland said.
Western allies fear that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine after annexing its Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russia has denied it plans to invade its one-time Soviet satellite state but also has not agreed to U.S. demands that it withdraw troops from the border.
U.S. President Joe Biden has ruled out a military confrontation with Russia in the event it decides to attack Ukraine, but says the U.S. and its allies would impose significant economic sanctions if it does invade.