Despite diplomatic efforts, NATO-Russia talks remain marked by sharp disagreements. Moscow's security proposals and the situation in Eastern Europe are the most contentious issues between the two sides. With the aim of bringing the two sides closer together, these issues were the main topics for discussion at the recent meeting between the Atlantic Alliance Council and Russian Deputy Foreign and Defence Ministers Alexander Grushko and Alexander Fomin.
The Russian delegation emphasised its red lines, which Putin had previously set out on several occasions. The deputy ministers insisted on the withdrawal of NATO troops in countries bordering Russia, not only in Ukraine, where they call for a halt to arms deliveries, but also in NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Grushko and Fomin also urged NATO not to include countries close to Russia. "The freedom to choose ways to ensure one's security should not be implemented in a way that infringes on the legitimate security interests of others," the deputy foreign minister said. Moscow has reiterated its right to ensure the security of its borders in the medium and long term. For this reason, Russia needs assurances that NATO will not expand into its spheres of influence if negotiations with NATO are to move forward.
However, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman rejected Russia's demands. "We are not going to accept that NATO cannot expand further," she said. In response, Grushko warned that if NATO opts for "the policy of deterrence", Russia will respond "with a policy of counter-deterrence". "If it turns to intimidation, we will respond with counter-intimidation. If you look for vulnerabilities in Russia's defence system, we will look for vulnerabilities in NATO. It is not our choice, but we have no other options if we don't," he added.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also noted that Russian representatives described the Alliance as "an element of instability" in places like Yugoslavia and Libya. Stoltenberg also warned of a "real risk of new armed conflicts in Europe" at the press conference following the meeting. "There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia," he acknowledged. However, he indicated the possibility of negotiation on some issues, such as arms control.
On Ukraine, he stressed that Kiev has the right to self-defence and accused Moscow of creating the crisis in the country. For this reason, according to Stoltenberg, "the easiest and quickest way" to solve this problem is for Russia to withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian border. In this regard, the Russian Defence Ministry has stressed that Moscow has repeatedly offered the alliance to take steps to de-escalate the situation. "Russian initiatives have been ignored by NATO. This creates conditions for incidents and conflicts and undermines the foundations of security," the ministry said in a statement published by the state news agency RIA Novosti.
Despite the disagreements, both Russia and NATO allies expressed the need to resume dialogue and set a timetable for future meetings. In this context, the NATO Secretary General noted the positive aspects of the meeting. "30 NATO Allies and Russia have sat around the same table and engaged on substantive issues," he acknowledged. Grushko, for his part, described the talks as "frank, direct, deep and intense". However, he said progress was possible, but there were some areas in which Russia could not step back.
This summit, the first of its kind in more than two years, is part of a round of dialogue between the West and Russia aimed at bringing positions closer together and resolving the crisis in Ukraine. Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov began these talks on 10 January in Geneva. The US side again rejected Moscow's security proposals, while Ryabkov reiterated that Russia had no intention of attacking Ukraine.
In this vein, NATO and EU defence ministers are meeting today in Brest to reaffirm their support for Kiev. Afterwards, Vienna will host the meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at a "decisive moment for European security", as Stoltenberg warned. These meetings are aimed at easing tensions in the east while strengthening the NATO-EU alliance vis-à-vis Russia.