NATO-Russia Council meets to try to defuse Ukraine crisis
The United States and its European allies will begin talks with Moscow at NATO headquarters on Wednesday in an attempt to defuse the risk of a new conflict in Ukraine, but Russia has made no gesture of appeasement.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman informed representatives of the 30 NATO members on Tuesday of her talks in Geneva with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov. « There is no reason to be optimistic, but the Russians are seriously engaged in the diplomatic sequence« , told AFP the representative of a European country.
Moscow has agreed to reactivate the NATO-Russia Council, the consultation body created in 2002 and put on hold since July 2019. Russia will be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who described the meeting of « moment of truth« in Russia-NATO relations.
Wendy Sherman will represent the United States and France dispatched François Delattre, number 2 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to Brussels.
The Geneva talks were inconclusive. The Russians and the Americans have stood firm in their respective positions. Moscow demanded from Washington and its allies a concrete guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO.
The Americans have made no concessions, but they have formulated proposals to reduce the risks of conflict and initiate conventional and nuclear disarmament, explained the new United States ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith. Washington has assured Moscow that it does not intend to position offensive weapons in Ukraine, but denied that it intends to carry out demilitarization in Europe, for its part said a European diplomat. « It is too early to tell whether the Russians are serious about diplomacy or not, or whether they are ready to negotiate seriously.White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.NATO’s relationship with Ukraine is an issue that only concerns Ukraine and the 30 NATO allies, not other countries« , she reaffirmed.
Wendy Sherman worked on Tuesday to allay the resentment of Europeans to be left on the sidelines. She assured that nothing in terms of security in Europe would be done without the Europeans, underlined the European diplomat. « The United States is committed to working closely with its allies and partners to encourage de-escalation and respond to the Russian-provoked security crisis« Wendy Sherman tweeted.
However, the NATO-Russia Council risks being a repetition of the Geneva discussions, each party sticking to its positions. « Our expectations are completely realistic and we hope it will be a serious and in-depth conversation.« , announced Alexander Grouchko.
Russia will demand a comprehensive response from the alliance to its demands. « We will push for a concrete, substantive, article-by-article response to the draft Russian safeguards agreement« , he clarified.
But Moscow has made no gesture of appeasement. Russia has offered no evidence that it will not invade Ukraine and no explanation as to why it has deployed some 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border, Sherman said. « We must observe the greatest caution. We have no reason to believe that a process is going to be initiated. We’re not even negotiating« , underlined the European representative. »Ukraine shows great restraint and Allies must avoid any pretext for closing diplomatic sequence« , he added.
A meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is scheduled for Thursday in Vienna.
France for its part mentioned Tuesday a meeting of the Normandy group (France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine) « by the end of January« .
Russia has been avoiding this format of discussions for several months, which aims to implement the Minsk peace accords (2015) on the Ukrainian conflict and refers to a first meeting of the leaders of the four countries in 2014 in Normandy (west of the France).