Thursday, July 7

NATO chief warns of “real risk of conflict” when talks with Russia on Ukraine end | Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said there is “a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe” after talks between alliance members and Russia ended with no signs of progress to defuse the Ukraine crisis. . ”.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko came out of the four hours of talks by renewing Moscow’s threat that it would take military action if political measures were not sufficient to “neutralize the threats” it claims to face. His comments came just days after his Russian diplomatic colleague Sergei Ryabkov assured reporters that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine.

Grushko said that he had told NATO representatives that “a further slide in the situation could lead to the most unpredictable and severe consequences for European security.”

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin was quoted as saying that relations with NATO were at a “critically low level”, while a Foreign Ministry official told reporters that “there was no positive agenda.”

The leader of the US delegation, the undersecretary of state, Wendy Sherman, said that she had not heard anything in Brussels that differed from the position of the Kremlin expressed in the bilateral talks in Geneva, demanding the guaranteed end of the expansion of NATO and the withdrawal of alliance troops in the former Soviet bloc countries that joined the alliance after 1997.

Those proposals remain unacceptable to the United States and all NATO allies, Sherman said. He also noted that there were still more than 100,000 Russian soldiers deployed near the Ukrainian border, some of whom had conducted live ammunition exercises in recent days.

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“We were basically saying to the Russians: some of the things they put on the table are not a start for us. We are not going to accept that NATO cannot expand further. We are not going to accept going back to 1997, “he told reporters. “Together, the United States and our NATO allies made it clear that we will not slam the door on NATO’s open door policy, a policy that has always been central to the NATO alliance.”

Stoltenberg called the day’s meeting a “watershed moment for European security” but said “significant differences” remained.

“We had a very serious and direct exchange on the situation in and around Ukraine and the implications for European security,” Stoltenberg said. “Our differences will not be easy to overcome, but it is a positive sign that all the allies of NATO and Russia sat around the same table and engaged in substantive issues.”

But he admitted: “There is a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe,” and warned that Russia would face “serious consequences” if it used military force.

The NATO-Russia Council meeting will be followed on Thursday in Vienna by a third round of talks with Moscow, at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), currently chaired by Poland.

After that, all parties would have to return to their capitals to make leadership decisions on whether to proceed with diplomacy. Sherman said there was room for dialogue to address Russia’s security concerns and “identify solutions that improve the security of all.” The US raised in Geneva the possibility of reciprocal agreements on missile deployments and military exercises.

Sherman said: “Russia, above all, will have to decide if it really is about security, in which case they should compromise, or if this was all a pretext and they may not know yet.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Ukraine’s former Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that a Russian operation against Ukraine now seemed inevitable, once diplomatic talks with the United States, NATO and the OSCE concluded this week.

“They [the Russians] they have created momentum. They want to use that impulse. They need to do something, “said Zagorodnyuk, who served as defense minister in 2019 and 2020. He added:” Moscow’s statements are extremely aggressive to the point of being rude. “

He said it was “highly unlikely” that the Kremlin would carry out a “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine. Although it would be relatively easy for the Russian army to seize the territory, the occupying soldiers would soon find themselves fighting an unwinnable guerrilla war, he said.

“Ninety percent of Ukrainians don’t want Russia. There would be great resistance here, ”he said. The Ukrainian army would immediately switch to “small group tactics,” he said, with regular soldiers effectively working as partisan units.

And he added: “It will be similar to what the Russians did to Napoleon in 1812. The war would be brutal and long.”

Zagorodnyuk predicted that the Kremlin was more likely to launch a hybrid war. That could include cyber raids, attacks on critical infrastructure, including electrical installations, and a massive information campaign. The strategy would be to “coerce Ukraine” into submitting, he said.

Ukrainian government sources suggest that Russia is considering a “staged provocation” inside Ukraine that could later be used to justify a larger attack. This could include a “violent” incident at the Russian embassy or consulate, which Moscow could then blame on far-right Ukrainian extremists.

Meanwhile, Kiev officials confirmed news reports that the Biden administration quietly authorized an additional $ 200 million (£ 146 million) security assistance to Ukraine in late December. Delivery – first Reported by CNN – would include radar systems and marine equipment.

No additional weapons have arrived yet, and the decision was recently relayed to congressional staff during a classified briefing, according to a Politico. Last month, the Pentagon provided small arms and ammunition under the terms of a previous $ 60 million aid tranche.

Ukraine has asked the US and EU countries to supply equipment that can be used by mobile units. These include Javelin anti-tank missiles and portable air defense systems like Stinger missiles, as well as sniper rifles, drones, and counter-battery radars.

The NATO-Russia Council meeting, the first since July 2019, was called in response to mounting tensions over Ukraine, after the Kremlin stationed more than 100,000 Russian soldiers and heavy weaponry on the border of its western neighbor.

Stoltenberg stressed that NATO wanted to continue talks with Russia and had proposed more meetings to discuss greater transparency on military exercises, arms control and reciprocal missile limits.

The latest meeting followed inconclusive talks between US and Russian officials in Geneva on Monday, where both sides laid out their opposing views on Ukraine.

Moscow has dismissed Western concerns that it is planning an attack, arguing that it needs security guarantees. “The situation has simply reached such a critical point in terms of pan-European security and the national interests of our country … that we cannot delay any longer and the concerns we have expressed need concrete responses,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

In that context, expectations of a breakthrough from the latest talks were low. Tomáš Valášek, a Slovak MP who served as his country’s ambassador to NATO between 2013 and 2017, said the NATO-Russia Councils he attended “tended to be mere formalities, but not for lack of NATO attempts. ”. He said: “The Russian side was not prepared to go beyond the agreed notes, the agreed talking points, so in the end these meetings ended up being very formalistic without breaking new ground.”

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