NATO has invited Russia to a new series of talks to discuss European security and arms controls as the alliance works to prevent a possible Russian attack on Ukraine.
“The main task now is to prevent a military attack on Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“We are willing to listen to your concerns, but we will not compromise on fundamental principles. We must keep a clear eye on the prospects for progress, but … we will do everything possible to reach an agreement.”
Stoltenberg’s offer of more wide-ranging talks with Moscow follows last week’s inconclusive meetings between the US and guarantees that neither Ukraine nor Moldova will be allowed to join NATO. Moscow wants a withdrawal of NATO troops near the Russian border and an end to some intermediate nuclear weapons in Europe.
The new invitation to the talks may be a last-ditch attempt to show Vladimir Putin that dialogue will give him substantial progress on arms control that he can sell to a national audience, and that a military intervention represents an incalculable political risk by comparison. for him.
But Stoltenberg’s offer still appears to leave NATO and Russia far apart on the talks’ agenda.
Standing next to Stoltenberg, Scholz said: “We all want stable and constructive relations with Russia. We have no interest in permanent tensions.” He added that there were difficult issues about how to sequence the issues in any talk with Russia.
He was also pressed to say whether he viewed the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany as a purely commercial contract. He hinted that the project would stop if there was an invasion, saying he supported a deal Germany signed with the US last year.
Stoltenberg’s offer came as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock met with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow. Baerbock said it was difficult to see the Russian troop buildup as anything more than a threat to Ukraine and that his country was willing to pay a high price to defend its values.
Baerbock also called for an urgent return to dialogue on the future of Ukraine through the Normandy Format, the four-way dialogue between Germany, Russia, France and Ukraine.
The highly experienced Lavrov said he would welcome US participation in the Normandy format, arguing that at this point it was impossible to persuade Ukraine to examine the necessary issues, including the legal status of Donbass, the breakaway region within Ukraine. .
With the Russian military buildup underway, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to fly to Ukraine on Wednesday, where he is expected to focus on offers Ukraine can make to restore dialogue.
Lavrov defended Russia’s right to move its troops within its borders and demanded promised written responses from both NATO and the US to Russia’s call to rewrite the European security architecture, including legally binding guarantees that neither Neither Ukraine nor Moldova will be admitted to NATO.
Baerbock said: “There will be no security in our common European home if there are no rules that everyone can trust.
“And we have no choice but to follow them, even if there is a high economic price,” he added, referring to possible sanctions discussed by Western nations.
His visit was being watched for signs of how the new German government will treat Moscow after the era of West-Russian mediation associated with former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Baerbock defended Ukraine’s right to self-determination, but disappointed Kiev by saying that Germany would not provide weapons to Ukraine on the grounds that Germany did not provide weapons for historical reasons in conflict zones. Instead, he offered to help Ukraine develop its hydrogen technology.
There were unconfirmed reports in the German press that Germany was pressuring the EU and the US to ease economic sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion of Ukraine and that the West had agreed not to try to separate Russia from the payments system. overall SWIFT. – an extreme measure that could have an unpredictable impact on the global banking system. The United States has threatened “serious economic consequences” in the event of Russian military action.
A British military plane carried anti-tank weapons to Ukraine on Monday night on a flight path that avoided German airspace, but both countries denied there had been any dispute over overflight permissions.
Scholz dodged a question about whether he supported Britain’s decision to supply anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, saying it had been German policy for many years not to export lethal weapons.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism