NATO stands ready for conflict in Europe, says alliance leader

NATO has warned Moscow to abandon its bellicose foreign policy and cooperate with the West or face a conflict-seasoned military alliance, on the eve of a week of intense diplomacy aimed at averting a Russian assault on Russia. ‘Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the US-led defense pact was prepared for “a new armed conflict in Europe” should negotiations fail, as Western officials braced for potential talks with Moscow on downsizing military exercises, arms control, and a pledge not to deploy US missiles in Ukraine.

“I know the history of Russia. For centuries, they have experienced conflicts with their neighbors, ”he told the Financial Times. “[But] Russia has an alternative: to cooperate, to work with NATO.

Russia has deployed around 100,000 troops to locations near its border with Ukraine in recent months, raising concerns that it is considering another attack on a country it invaded in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea.

President Vladimir Putin has denied any plans for an invasion. But he warned of possible military action if the United States and NATO ignored Moscow’s demands for new defense agreements that would significantly reduce the capabilities of the United States and NATO in Europe. Russia claims that these capabilities pose a threat to its borders.

“It is possible to find together a path, a political path to follow, and also to respond to Russia’s concerns. . . But there is always a risk of conflict, ”Stoltenberg said in an interview. “NATO’s deterrence is credible and strong. . . We must hope and work hard for the best, but be prepared for the worst. “

His warning comes ahead of official talks between Russian and US officials in Geneva on Monday, followed by a meeting of 30 NATO alliance members and a Russian delegation on Wednesday. A third meeting organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at Large is scheduled for Thursday.

On Sunday evening, the chief negotiator and Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov met his American counterpart Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state. He said their conversation over dinner in Geneva “was difficult, but pragmatic”.

“We have delved into the question of future business. I think that tomorrow we will not waste time, ”he said in remarks reported by the Russian state news agency Ria. “I never lose my optimism, I am always guided by him.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Sherman had “underscored the United States’ commitment to the international principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the freedom of sovereign nations to choose their own alliances. Over dinner, and “affirmed that the United States will welcome real progress through diplomacy.”

Price said Sherman had “stressed that discussion of certain topics” relating to European security would be reserved for multilateral talks involving NATO later in the week.

Russia’s demands include a ban on Ukraine and other countries from joining NATO and a Kremlin veto on alliance activities in member states that joined after the collapse of the Soviet Union . Stoltenberg said both were unacceptable because they violated NATO’s “fundamentals” of offering membership to all and defending allies equally.

Instead, Stoltenberg said the United States and NATO were ready to discuss with Russia possible risk reduction measures “like arms control, on efforts to try to have more transparency. on military activities, exercises and also on lines of communication “.

Excluding U.S. missile deployments to Ukraine and discussing broader rules on missile systems in Europe were two areas Washington saw a possibility of agreement, a senior Biden administration official said ahead of the talks. , adding that it would depend on whether “Russia is prepared to make a reciprocal commitment.”

The United States was also “willing to explore the possibility of reciprocal restrictions on the size and scope of [military] exercises, including both strategic bombers close to the territory of the other, as well as exercises on the ground ”, declared the person in charge, adding that“ no firm commitment ”would be taken in Geneva.

Washington has strongly denied media reports that it could offer to withdraw some troops stationed in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russia reducing its deployment on the Ukrainian border. Instead, officials said the United States and other NATO allies were ready to increase that presence if Putin took military action.

The United States, the EU and other Western partners have warned they will impose financial sanctions on Russia in the event of military escalation. Officials said yesterday that the United States was prepared to “immediately impose severe and crushing costs on the Russian economy.”

The United States is also preparing potential trade restrictions against Russia and has discussed the possibility of a series of export controls with allies and partners in Europe and Asia, according to people familiar with the White House thinking. .

While the Kremlin expressed hope for quick solutions from the talks, Stoltenberg said he expected it would take “a series of meetings” to find mutually acceptable results.

“We are ready to fight for a better relationship,” said the former Norwegian prime minister. “We have proven before that we are able to compromise and find solutions with Russia.”

Mary I. Bruner