US Secretary of State Says Diplomatic Solution to Ukraine Crisis Still Possible | NATO

US Secretary of State Tony Blinken said a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis was always possible and preferable, but warned that it was impossible to make progress as long as Russia continued to step up pressure along the border.

Blinken was speaking after a virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers and ahead of a week of intensive diplomacy in Europe aimed at fending off a threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine.

He said the United States and its allies could talk about “confidence building measures, more transparency, [and] risk reduction ”with Russia, but the treaties that Moscow asks the United States and NATO to sign the unilateral withdrawal of troops from Eastern Europe and excluding the future membership of Ukraine in NATO were “non-starters”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also pledged that NATO would never withdraw its conditional offer to join Ukraine, arguing that the real threat to Russia was Ukraine’s secure democratic policy.

Blinken accused Russia of “enlightening” the world by claiming that NATO and Ukraine threatened Moscow rather than the other way around.

“No one should be surprised if Russia starts a provocation or an incident and then tries to use it to justify military intervention, hoping that by the time the world realizes the ruse it will be too late,” he said. he declares.

The Secretary of State stressed that Russia had massed 100,000 troops around Ukraine with “the intention of mobilizing double that number in the very short term”.

NBC News reported Friday that the United States was prepared to negotiate a mutual troop withdrawal, with Russia withdrawing from the Ukrainian border and American forces withdrawing NATO’s eastern flank.

The administration “is compiling a list of options for changes in the position of forces in Europe to be discussed with Russia in the talks,” an administration official told NBC.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price later denied NBC’s report, saying: “It is not correct that the administration is developing options to withdraw US forces in Europe from the United States. Is in view of talks with Russia next week.

Blinken did not go into details but said there were areas “where if Russia has legitimate concerns, we are quite ready to listen, engage and see if we can move forward.”

He added that progress could be made “if we approach this as a two-way street based on reciprocity”, but that “real progress is going to be very difficult to make, if not impossible, in an environment of escalation by the Russia ”.

In his remarks after the NATO ministerial meeting, Stoltenberg said: “The Russian military build-up has not stopped. It is gradually being built with artillery and electronic warfare equipment.

He warned that in the event of a Russian invasion, there would be a large troop movement to protect NATO countries on the border with Russia.

NATO’s show of force was intended as a message to Vladimir Putin that he will not be able to draw the United States into concessions in separate bilateral talks over Ukraine’s sovereignty or the future structure. of NATO.

Although Stoltenberg has said NATO is ready to discuss issues such as troop transparency, Western officials are skeptical that next week’s round of talks will lead to a breakthrough, and believe demands by Putin on December 17 in the form of two draft treaties were formulated to be rejected.

“We are ready to engage in arms control with Russia, conventional and nuclear, but it must be reciprocal,” Stoltenberg said. “It’s a different thing [from] impose unilateral restrictions… we cannot find ourselves in a situation where we have second-class NATO members where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them.

NATO is adamant that its conditional offer to join Georgia and Ukraine, first made in 2008, will not be withdrawn, although in practice membership is not imminent . The two countries have been invited to participate in part of a meeting of NATO defense ministers next month.

British Foreign Minister Liz Truss said: “Russia’s military build-up on the border with Ukraine and in illegally annexed Crimea is unacceptable. There is no justification for his aggressive and unprovoked stance towards Ukraine.

“We stand with our NATO allies in urging Russia to end its malicious activities and adhere to international agreements to which it has freely subscribed.

“We will defend democracy in Eastern Europe and around the world. Our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is unwavering. We are clear that any Russian incursion would be a massive strategic mistake, for which there would be a severe cost. “

British officials are still unsure whether Putin will invade, but they seem increasingly focused on strengthening forward defenses inside NATO. The West has promised massive economic sanctions against Russia in the event of an incursion, but has ruled out sending troops – as opposed to arms – to Ukraine.

The series of talks begins Monday with a bilateral meeting in Geneva between US and Russian officials on future security structures. It will be followed by a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday of the Russian NATO Council, the first such meeting in two years, and finally by a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chaired by Poland to Vienna.

Western officials have suggested that sending a few thousand Russian troops to quell the rebellion in Kazakhstan would not change Putin’s military calculations, even if it poses an unexpected political headache for Moscow.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Putin was trying to discuss proposals with NATO “to sort of go back to the areas of influence of the past … which would mean Russia would restore the spirit. de Yalta “- a reference to the conference between the Allied Powers of World War II in February 1945 which gave the Soviet Union control over its Eastern European neighbors.

“This is not our point of view, but we have to accept the discussion,” said Le Drian.

Christi C. Elwood