NATO weighs Russia's security offer to end Ukraine standoff

AP , Friday 7 Jan 2022

NATO foreign ministers on Friday discussed Russia's military build-up around Ukraine amid skepticism about the credibility of President Vladimir Putin's offer to ease tensions, ahead of a week of high-level diplomacy aimed at ending the standoff.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he talks during a press conference after the extraordinary meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Russia-Ukraine tensions at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on January 7, 2022. AFP

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts held online talks to prepare for the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in more than two years. That meeting on Wednesday in Brussels will give NATO ambassadors the chance to discuss Putin's security proposals with Russia's envoy face to face.

It's all part of a flurry of meetings involving NATO, senior U.S. and Russian officials and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe set for next week.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that it's important to speak with Russia about its concerns, and that he will talk again with Putin 'in the coming days.''

'Dialogue does not mean giving in,'' Macron told reporters in Paris at an event to mark the start of France's six-month term at the helm of the European Union.

Much contained in the documents that Moscow has made public _ a draft agreement with NATO countries and the offer of a treaty between Russia and the United States _ appears to be a non-starter at the 30-country military organization, despite fears that Putin might order an invasion of Ukraine.

NATO would have to agree to halt all membership plans, not just with Ukraine, and end military exercises close to Russia's borders. In exchange, Russia would respect the international commitments it's signed up to on limiting wargames, and end aircraft buzzing incidents and other low-level hostilities.

Endorsing such an agreement would require NATO to reject a key part of its founding treaty. Under Article 10 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, the organization can invite in any willing European country that can contribute to security in the North Atlantic area, as well as fulfil the obligations of membership.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and later backed a separatist rebellion in the country's east. Over more than seven years, the fighting has killed over 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine's industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.

Russia denies that it has fresh plans to attack its neighbor, but Putin wants legal guarantees that would rule out NATO expansion and weapons deployments. Moscow says it expects answers to its security proposals this month.

The NATO-Russia Council was set up two decades ago. But NATO ended cooperation with Russia through the NRC in 2014 after it annexed Crimea. Wednesday's meeting will be the first since July 2019. NATO officials say Russia has refused to take part in meetings as long as Ukraine was on the agenda.

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