Stoltenberg: NATO Won't Give Up Open Door Policy, Right to Station Troops in States Ringing Russia
13:38 GMT 12.01.2022 (Updated: 14:10 GMT 13.01.2022)
Russian and NATO officials held talks in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the security proposals put forward by the Russian Foreign Ministry in mid-December aimed at easing tensions between Moscow and the Western alliance. The discussions took place following talks in Geneva between Russian and US officials on Monday.
The Western bloc's member states "will make every effort" to find a political way forward with Russia, but will not give up on its "core principles," including its open door policy for membership, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said.
"Today Russia raised the proposal that they published in December aimed at addressing their security concerns; these include demands to stop admitting any new member to NATO and withdraw forces from eastern allies. Allies on their side reaffirmed NATO's open door policy and the right for each nation to choose its own security arrangements. Allies made clear that they will not renounce their ability to protect and defend each other, including with the presence of troops in the eastern part of the alliance," Stoltenberg said in a press conference Wednesday after the conclusion of a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council.
"There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues, and the differences will not be easy to bridge. But it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia sat down around the same table," Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg indicated that the bloc called on Russia during the meeting to "withdraw its forces" from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - presumably in a reference to Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and to Crimea – the region which broke off from Ukraine and rejoined Russia in 2014 following a Western-backed coup in Kiev.
NATO, he said, "expressed serious concern" about the alleged Russian military buildup "in and around Ukraine," and called on Russia to de-escalate the situation and to "respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours."
"They also called on Russia to refrain from aggressive force posturing and malign activities directed against allies and abide by all its international obligations and commitments," Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief said the bloc was prepared to hold further meetings with Russia on a broad range of issues, including missiles, but said that the Russian side had indicated that they are not ready to do so at this stage.
"NATO made it clear in the meeting that we are ready to schedule a series of meetings addressing a wide range of different topics, including missiles and reciprocal verifiable limits on missiles, in Europe. From the Russian side, they made clear that they are not ready," Stoltenberg said.
Last month, asked to comment on the Foreign Ministry's decision to publish Russia's security proposals openly, President Vladimir Putin indicated that Moscow did so openly amid fears that the Western bloc might try stalling tactics. "They will chat endlessly, speak endlessly about the need to negotiate, and do nothing, except pumping up our neighbour with modern weapons systems, and increase the threat to Russia, with which we will then be forced to somehow deal with, somehow live," Putin said
In his press conference on Wednesday, Stoltenberg also commented on the ongoing diplomatic spat between Russia and the bloc, which blew up late last year after NATO unilaterally revoked the accreditation of eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO, prompting Moscow to suspend the operations of the bloc's information office in the Russian capital. The secretary-general said there was mutual interest in restoring the work of these offices.
Last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said relations between Moscow and the alliance had sunk to a state beyond "catastrophic," because "to be catastrophic you need to have [relations]" to begin with.
Wednesday's talks in Brussels, led by the Russian side by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko and Deputy Minister of Defence Alexander Fomin, were the second of three discussions between Russian officials and officials from the US and NATO this week on the security proposals tabled by Moscow in mid-December. On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and their respective delegations met in Geneva, Switzerland. On Thursday, the Organisation for Security Co-operation in Europe - which includes Russia and members of the NATO alliance, plus other states in Europe and the former Soviet Union, will meet in Vienna to wrap up the whirlwind of diplomatic talks.
Russia's twin draft security agreement documents propose a series of binding commitments aimed at considerably easing tensions between Moscow and the West. They include calls on the parties not to deploy troops, missile systems, aircraft and warships in areas where they may be considered a threat to the other side. The United States and NATO are asked to halt the alliance's eastward expansion, and scrap plans to incorporate Ukraine or any other country of the former USSR into the bloc. NATO is also asked to limit the deployment of arms and troops along its eastern flank – specifically in those countries which joined the alliance after the end of the Cold War.
The United States and its allies have broken commitments made to Russia not to expand beyond the borders of a reunified Germany following the end of the Cold War. In remarks last month, President Putin indicated that Russia had been forced to try to set up "red lines" on the bloc's further eastward push now because NATO has "squeezed us against such a line...that we can't move around."