(Brussels) NATO is concerned about the “real” danger of conflict in Ukraine as Russia continues its military presence along its borders and must be prepared for diplomatic failure, the Alliance Secretary General warned on Friday.
“Russia’s military build-up around Ukraine will continue and there will be threatening speeches from Moscow if its demands are not accepted. However, they are unacceptable and the risk of a new conflict is real,” Mr Stoltenberg announced after a video conference with the foreign ministers of the Alliance.
The Kremlin released two agreement proposals late last year to NATO commit itself to excluding any future membership of Ukraine and to reduce its forces near the border with Russia.
“NATO will no doubt compromise on the principle that every country has the right to choose its own path, including the type of security agreement it wants to be part of,” said Jens Stoltenberg.
US-Russian talks are set to begin in Geneva on Monday to reduce the risk of Russian intervention in Ukraine. Moscow has agreed to attend NATO-Russia Council meeting on Wednesday, the first since the summer of 2019. “This is a positive sign that tensions are high,” Jens Stoltenberg said.
But the Allies were conditional. “The Russian government must move forward with the decline, maintain diplomatic channels and honor its commitments in terms of transparency in military operations,” demanded British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
His Polish counterpart, Zbigniew Rowe, confirmed for his part that “negotiations with Russia will not take place in a situation where Ukraine and NATO are on the rise.”
NATO will not interfere
Jens Stoltenberg also insisted that “European security could not be discussed without Europeans on the table.”
The head of the US embassy, Anthony Blinken, promised in Kiev that “without Ukraine there would be no discussion of Ukraine.”
“The European Union (EU) needs to be able to focus its attention on the overall geopolitical situation in the region, work with all stakeholders and sit around the table,” French President Emmanuel insisted on Friday. Macron meets with members of the European Commission, chaired by German Ursula van der Leyen, in Paris.
“We have to be prepared for the possibility of the consultation failing,” Jens Stoltenberg warned.
“If Russia decides to use military means against its neighbors, it will suffer severe economic and political sanctions,” he added.
But NATO will not intervene militarily, because Ukraine is not a member state of the alliance, he reiterated.
“Ukraine is a partner, but not within the scope of the 30-nation collective defense agreement,” he said.
However, the Alliance is preparing to strengthen its military presence on its eastern side. “We have significant capabilities,” Jens Stoltenberg emphasized, recalling that NATO has a rapid reaction force of 40,000 men.