Russia and NATO meet for decisive talks on Ukraine crisis

Sherman told reporters Wednesday’s meeting between NATO and Russia ended with a “sober challenge from NATO allies to Russia” to respond to opportunities offered by the international community to defuse the situation in the border with Ukraine and choose the path of diplomacy.

But Sherman, who spoke forcefully about the West’s unified message in Moscow after the roughly four-hour session in Brussels, clarified that the United States and its Western allies do not yet know what the Russian president’s goals are. Vladimir Putin following diplomatic meetings, with more than 100,000 Russian troops positioned on the Ukrainian border.

In statements Wednesday, Russian officials suggested that Moscow might resort to military action if political efforts fail. The warning came a day after the Russian military conducted live fire exercises along the border.

“When live fire drills are reported this morning. What is it about ? Sherman said, referring to reports on Russian exercises. “Is it a question of invasion? Is it a question of intimidation? Is it an attempt to be subversive? I don’t know. But it is not conducive to obtaining diplomatic solutions.”

Asked by CNN’s Alex Marquardt whether the Russians had committed to defuse, Sherman replied that they had not.

“There was no de-escalation commitment, no,” she said, before pausing and adding: “There was also no statement that there would be. not.”

Sherman has suggested that the Russians themselves may not even know how they intend to use or act on this week’s diplomatic talks with the United States and NATO. She said the United States believes progress can be made – if Russia engages on issues of overlapping interests.

“There is a lot of work that we have places where we can improve mutual security. There are places where we cannot. But there is progress that can be made,” Sherman said.

Sherman told CNN’s Christianne Amanpour on Wednesday that she believed Putin had amassed troops on the border with Ukraine in order to “put pressure on Europe and the United States, to put pressure on the Atlantic ambition of the euro, to… intimidate, coerce, and to say “I also have sticks that I can bring to this discussion”.

Russia says situation is becoming “intolerable”

After Wednesday’s meetings, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko warned that Moscow would resort to military measures if the political course failed to push back threats to its security, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.

“We have a set of military-technical legal measures that we will apply if we feel a real threat to (our) security, and we already feel it, if our territory is seen as an object for targeted strike weapons,” said Grushko. told reporters, according to Russian state media. “Of course, we cannot agree with that. We will take whatever steps are necessary to repel the threat by military means if it does not work with political means.”

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin also released a seemingly pessimistic statement about the talks on Wednesday, saying it was NATO ignoring Russia’s proposals to defuse – and warning that it could lead to conflicts.

“The Russian side has repeatedly offered the alliance to take measures to defuse the situation,” Fomin said. “On the part of the alliance, Russian initiatives have been ignored. This creates preconditions for incidents and conflicts, undermines the foundations of security.

Grushko said the Russian side has told NATO countries that the current situation is becoming “intolerable” for Moscow.

During Wednesday’s rough meeting – which lasted longer than expected – Sherman said the United States and its NATO allies have once again made it clear that Russia’s request for Ukraine to never being allowed to join NATO was a mistake. Sherman called it “difficult to understand” how Russia could feel threatened by Ukraine despite having the largest conventional army in Europe.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, arrive at the NATO-Russia Council at Alliance headquarters in Brussels, January 12, 2022.

Wednesday’s session with the NATO-Russia Council was the second of three scheduled for this week. The US delegation headed by Sherman met with the Russians on Monday, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will hold a session with Russia on Thursday in Vienna.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the NATO-Russia meeting on the situation in Ukraine was “not an easy discussion” and “the differences will not be easy to bridge” , but added that NATO allies and Russia “have expressed the need to resume dialogue.”

“We had a very serious and direct exchange on the situation in and around Ukraine and the implications for European security,” he told reporters. “There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues. Our differences will not be easy to bridge, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia have sat down. around the same table and engaged on important topics. “

United States finalizes sanctions options

The Biden administration has sanctions targets and implementation measures “ready to be issued when these tanks cross the border,” a senior administration official said.

“The final package will depend exactly on the scenario we face,” the official said. “But we’re no longer at the point where we just have a memo that presents options. We have concrete actions that we’re ready to hit the return key on.”

As CNN previously reported, the White House has been analyzing in recent weeks the impacts that various sanctions options would have not only on Russia, but also on the European and American economies. Biden administration officials said on Wednesday that the United States and its allies have determined that while tough economic sanctions are likely to have global economic ramifications, any spillover can be managed.

Tensions are high on Ukraine's border with Russia.  Here's what you need to know

“The European financial system and its economy as a whole are in much better health than in 2014, especially in the banking sector,” said one of the officials.

The United States is also aware of the risk that Putin will try to counter any economic sanctions by arming the export of Russian gas to Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies. One of the officials said that if Putin took this route, it would “strengthen Europe’s resolve to source elsewhere.”

“We are well aware of the potential impact of a reduction in the Russian energy supply, both in the European market” and in the world, the official said, adding that a range of emergency options for this scenario is under development.

Sources close to these eventualities said they included fuel switching, in which some energy sources are replaced by others to meet demand, as well as increased imports of liquid natural gas from China. LNG producing countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. . European authorities are also examining the level of protection their storage facilities would provide in the event that Russia cuts off exports, the sources said.

They stressed that the Russian economy is also heavily dependent on gas export earnings.

Asked about efforts by some Republican members of Congress, especially Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz, to sanction the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline and essentially kill the project, senior administration officials said they believed that doing so now would reduce the influence of the West. on Russia.

Even before the latest build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, the Biden administration, however, lifted additional congressional sanctions on Nord Stream 2, arguing that it would damage U.S. relations with Germany, which considers the pipeline as a commercial project.

Russian troops conduct live fire exercises

Wednesday’s meeting comes as both sides are at an impasse, with growing fears that Russia could launch an invasion in Ukraine.

Moscow has rejected these allegations. However, Russia amassed up to 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, and on the eve of the talks, the military began live fire exercises in areas near the border.

The United States, NATO and their allies are pushing Russia to defuse the situation. Moscow demanded security guarantees from the United States and NATO, including a binding commitment that NATO will not expand further east and allow Ukraine to join the military alliance. – what NATO is not prepared to do.

“At this point, let me be very, very clear – no one is suggesting that we change NATO’s enlargement policy,” said the US Ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith. told CNN Tuesday.

Rather than being designed as a bilateral NATO-Russia meeting, Wednesday’s meeting saw each of NATO’s 30 member states and Russia represented equally, in a forum of 31. The meeting is the second of three key commitments between the West and Russia this week.

On Monday, representatives of the United States and Russia sat in Geneva for more than seven hours of discussions.

The marathon talks, which the White House called “frank and blunt,” failed to produce a breakthrough. Another round of talks between Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – of which the United States is a member – is scheduled for Thursday in Vienna.

Ukraine said on Tuesday that it was convinced that the United States and other NATO countries would not take a decision “on the fate” of the country “behind our back” at the meetings.

CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi, Michael Conte, Kylie Atwood, Ellie Kaufman, Luke McGee, Katharina Krebs, Nikki Carvajal, Alex Marquardt, Mick Krever and James Frater contributed reporting.

Christi C. Elwood