Kremlin says no ultimatums, but Russia needs concrete answers on security

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MOSCOW, Jan 12 (Reuters) – Russia is not making ultimatums in its negotiations with the West but needs concrete answers regarding its security concerns, the Kremlin said on Wednesday as talks took place with NATO in Brussels.

“We are not negotiating from a position of strength, there is not and nor can there be any place for ultimatums here,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“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 further and the concerns we have voiced need concrete answers.”

Russia’s meetings with the West are part of an effort to defuse the worst East-West tensions since the Cold War, triggered primarily by a confrontation over Ukraine, which the United States says Russia may be planning to invade. Moscow dismisses such claims.

Peskov said Russia was ready to negotiate directly with Ukraine provided existing agreements were fulfilled. He said live-fire exercises with troops and tanks that Russian forces held near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday were not linked to the NATO talks.

NATO allies say that many of Russia’s demands, laid out in two draft treaties in December, are unacceptable, including calls to scale back the alliance’s activities to 1990s levels and promise not to take in new members.

Asked about possible Finnish membership of NATO, Peskov said NATO was an “instrument of confrontation” and any enlargement of it was a concern to Russia.

Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine has rekindled debate in Finland about whether it should join NATO, and the Nordic country has said it reserves the option of seeking membership at any time. Neutral Sweden has also strengthened ties with the alliance.

Russia began to lay out its demands for security guarantees in Europe to NATO’s 30 allies on Wednesday, following intense talks with the United States in Geneva that showed the two sides have major differences to bridge.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg received Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko at allied headquarters to try to defuse the worst East-West tensions since the Cold War, triggered primarily by a confrontation over Ukraine, which the United States says Russia is planning to invade.

Moscow dismisses such claims, though it is massing troops near the Ukrainian border.

The talks in the NATO-Russian Council include NATO envoys, ministers and a Russian delegation led by Grushko. They are the highest-profile attempt at NATO to turn a potential military conflict over Ukraine into a political and diplomatic process.

NATO diplomats say the Western alliance would consider it a success if Russia agreed to hold further talks. Allies are ready to negotiate with Moscow on increasing openness around military drills and to avoid accidental clashes that could spark conflict, as well as arms control regarding missiles in Europe.

But the NATO allies say that many of Russia’s demands, laid out in two draft treaties in December, are unacceptable, including calls to scale back the alliance’s activities to 1990s era levels and promising not to take in new members.

“Let’s be clear: Russian actions have precipitated this crisis. We are committed to using diplomacy to de-escalate the situation,” U.S. envoy to NATO Julianne Smith told reporters on Tuesday evening.

“We want to see … Russia pulling back its forces,” she said of the 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine.

Bridling at NATO’s expansion eastward into its old Soviet sphere of influence, the Kremlin sees the U.S.-led alliance’s deterrents and military modernisation as a threat.

Russia staged live-fire exercises with troops and tanks near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday while sounding a downbeat note over prospects for more talks with the United States.

Grushko, a former Russian ambassador to NATO, has said Russia wants to avoid confrontation. His direct colleague Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov – who held talks with the United States in Geneva but who was not in Brussels on Wednesday – has said Ukraine must never be allowed to join NATO.

NATO has no immediate plans to admit Ukraine, but says Russia cannot dictate its relations with other sovereign states.

Talks will continue this week in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a broader body where Russia, the United States and Europeans are represented.

“Our main goal is, in principle, to establish a dialogue. I think it is worth noting separately that there are no negotiations as such this week,” U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter, said according to a U.S. transcript of an interview with Russia’s TV Rain (Dozhd) published on Wednesday.

See also: Russia Holds Tank Drills Near Ukraine

Photo – (L-R) Russian Deputy Defence Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Alexander Grushko and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend the NATO-Russia Council at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 12 January 2022. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL

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