‘Risk of conflict is real’ – NATO chief
NATO is open to listening to Moscow’s concerns, the bloc’s head Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday. However, he added that any moves to reduce tensions over Ukraine must be reciprocal, and not undermine the European “security order.”
The Secretary-General explained his organisation's approach to negotiations with Moscow during a press conference, following an extraordinary meeting of the member states’ foreign ministers.
Stoltenberg squarely blamed the deteriorating relations and tensions around Ukraine on the Russian side, reiterating the claims of a “military build-up” allegedly conducted by Moscow on its neighbor’s borders. The allegations have been consistently dismissed by the Kremlin, which insists any movement of troops within its own territory is strictly its domestic business.
“The risk of conflict is real. Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe,” Stoltenberg insisted on Friday.
At the same time, the official signaled that NATO was not eager to enter a war with Russia over Ukraine. While the West has repeatedly warned Russia over severe “consequences” should it “invade” its neighbor – a charge repeatedly denied by Moscow – Ukraine is not a NATO member and an attack on it does not invoke the bloc’s collective defense, Stoltenberg reminded the journalists at the press conference.
We have to remember that Ukraine is a very close partner. We provide support to Ukraine, but Ukraine is not covered by NATO’s collective defense clause because Ukraine is not a NATO member. They are a partner.
The bloc is ready to engage with Russia on outstanding security issues, but Moscow should not expect any one-sided concessions, Stoltenberg warned. He also expressed confidence that the US won't make any concessions to Russia at the expense of its European allies.
“We are ready to engage in arms control with Russia, conventional and nuclear, but that has to be reciprocal,” Stoltenberg stated. “That’s a different thing – imposing one-sided restrictions ... we can’t end up in a situation where we have second-class NATO members where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them.”
Top diplomats from NATO states got together for an online summit ahead of the upcoming US-Russia talks, as well as the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in years. The US-Russia talks, set to be led by high-level officials of the two nations, are scheduled to begin in Geneva on January 10. A NATO-Russia Council meeting, set to be the first since 2019, is expected to take place on January 12.