Sat, 21 May 2022

The United States and its European allies sat down with senior Russian envoys at Nato headquarters on Wednesday, amid hopes that a revived diplomatic engagement can head off the threat of conflict on the Ukraine border.

Ahead of today's face to face talks in Brussels, both sides remained wedded to their starting positions. The fresh round of tense negotiations kicked off as some 100,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine's border.

Nato wants to continue its "open-door policy" towards potential future members like Ukraine and Georgia, while Moscow is demanding guarantees the alliance will not expand further towards eastward.

Russia's massive troop deployment at the Ukrainian border has forced Washington to engage with Moscow to head off fears of an all-out military confrontation.

On Wednesday, both sides revived the Nato-Russia Council (NRC), a platform that was established at a summit in Rome on 28 May 2002 under the declaration "Nato-Russia Relations: a New Quality," but has not been convened since 2019.

At the opening of today's talks, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said : "It is a timely opportunity for dialogue at a critical moment for European security. When tensions are high, it is even more important that we sit down around the same table and address our concerns."

Shadow of Crimea looms large over 'moment of truth'

Nato and Russia broke off practical cooperation in 2014 after Moscow occupied and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Russia's diplomatic mission to the alliance was withdrawn in October last year after eight of its staff were expelled on allegations of espionage.

But former ambassador, now a deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko is leading the negotiations with Stoltenberg and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, having earlier this week described the revived council meeting as a "moment of truth".

On Monday, Sherman met Kremlin envoys in Geneva for a direct US-Russia dialogue, but Washington's European allies are keen not to be sidelined in security talks.

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On Tuesday, Sherman was at Nato headquarters to brief Stoltenberg and European allies.

"The United States is committed to working in lockstep with our allies and partners to urge de-escalation and respond to the security crisis caused by Russia," she said.

After more than seven hours of negotiations in Geneva on Monday, the Russian and US officials both offered to keep talking, though there was no breakthrough.

Moscow's demands include a concrete guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join Nato.

Ahead of the meeting Grushko said: "We will push for a concrete, substantive, article-by-article reaction to the Russian draft agreement on guarantees."

The allies have long insisted that Nato membership is a matter for sovereign states to decide for themselves and on Tuesday once again vowed to preserve their open-door policy.

They also threatened massive economic and financial sanctions against Moscow if its huge troop build-up on Ukraine's frontiers and in Russian-occupied Crimea turns into a new invasion.

Originally published on RFI

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