Jan 12, 2022 - World

Russia talks may have bought time on Ukraine invasion

Jens Stoltenberg with Russian officials

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko (R) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrive at the NATO-Russia Council. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday that both sides agreed to "explore a schedule for future meetings," suggesting this week's talks may have bought time to de-escalate the crisis over Ukraine.

The latest: Alexander Grushko, a Russian deputy foreign minister, confirmed during his own press conference that "of course" his side is ready to continue talks. "But it should be meaningful discussions," he stressed. "It should not be repetition of so-called slogans of principles."

Why it matters: Stoltenberg reiterated his warning that NATO is preparing for the "real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe" if diplomacy fails and Russia launches another invasion of Ukraine.

The big picture: At the heart of Russia's threatening military buildup are its demands that NATO provide legal guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia will never receive membership, and that the alliance withdraw all forces from former Soviet satellite states.

  • Stoltenberg categorically ruled out the possibility of a compromise on those issues, telling reporters: "It is only Ukraine and 30 allies that can decide when Ukraine can become a NATO member. No one else can, and of course Russia does not have a veto."
  • "NATO is engaged in dialogue with Russia, but we will not compromise on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in Europe," he stressed.

Between the lines: It's unclear how Russia, which has massed over 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, will be able to climb down from its red lines and avert a devastating war.

  • Stoltenberg said that Russia's representatives "made it clear that they needed some time to come back to NATO with an answer" on the prospect of future meetings, but that they expressed "a general willingness and support to the idea of dialogue."
  • Russian officials have said that they will wait for the final set of this week's diplomatic talks — a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday — before making any decisions.

U.S. officials have said they are unsure whether Russian President Vladimir Putin truly intends to invade Ukraine.

  • Some have speculated that Russia's own diplomats are in the dark, which has resulted in contradictory positions during this week's talks.
  • While Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov insisted on Monday that Moscow has no intention of invading Ukraine, he warned that Western countries would be "playing with fire" if they didn't take Russia's demands seriously.
  • "Russia ... will have to decide whether they really are about security, in which case they should engage, or whether this was all a pretext. And they may not even know yet," Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation, said in her own press conference.

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