NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says that the danger of a conflict in Europe is real, after he met the alliance’s foreign ministers in a digital meeting on Friday afternoon.
The theme is Russia’s building of forces around Ukraine in recent months. Stoltenberg says that Russia has not shown signs of withdrawing forces, despite international calls.
– NATO will try everything to have a meaningful dialogue. But it must be based on the principles of European security, and with Ukraine present, Stoltenberg said – but kept his father open for diplomacy not to succeed.
But he added that it is positive that Russia has agreed to participate in meetings, with the United States, with NATO countries and with the OSCE in the coming days.
On Friday, Stoltenberg had convened the alliance’s foreign ministers for an extraordinary foreign ministers’ meeting to coordinate interests between the United States and the other member states, before next week’s meetings with Russia.
The starting point that is being discussed right now on the Western side is how the United States and NATO can meet Russia to increase trust between the parties and thereby reduce the risk of a military conflict over Ukraine.
– You get more and more worried. The situation is difficult and demanding, a security source on the west side told VG before the meeting.
To VG, the fear of a Russian attack on Ukraine is described as significant.
But because no one knows for sure about President Vladimir Putin’s next move, there is great tension and nervousness around the meetings agreed with Russian diplomats in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna in the next few days.
Expectations from the NATO side are so low that only an agreement on new meetings of the NATO-Russia Council will be considered a kind of success, according to another source on the Western side.
When Stoltenberg opened the Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Friday afternoon, he again asked Russia to withdraw the forces that now stand on the border with Ukraine. He added that NATO was ready to discuss the disagreements with Russia, and mentioned in particular openness about military movements, and armaments control.
– It is a positive signal that Russia is now willing to come to the negotiating table, he added before the meetings in the next few days.
On Sunday and Monday, Russia and the United States will hold talks in Geneva. On Wednesday, the NATO Russia Council will meet in Brussels, and talks will continue in the OSCE in Vienna on Thursday.
– This is an opportunity for Russia to demonstrate that the country is serious about dialogue, diplomacy and international obligations, said the NATO chief.
The background for these meetings is that Russia – according to Western intelligence – has moved large military forces to the border areas with Ukraine.
Russia’s top leaders have denied that the intent is an invasion of Ukraine.
But in mid-December, after months of rearmament on the border, Russia demanded immediate talks with NATO countries, and directly with the United States.through two draft agreements which Russia has published.
From Russia’s point of view, this is about far more than denying Ukraine membership in NATO forever:
Among the demands is also that NATO should not occupy other new member states either – and that the United States and the alliance withdraw their military forces from the new member states, the former Soviet republics, in the east.
– At these points, there is not much room for negotiation, says a centrally located source.
Two recent telephone conversations between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have also not led to visible results or that the conflict has escalated.
Sweden and Finland respond
The governments of Finland and Sweden have reacted sharply to Russia’s demand that NATO close its doors to new members.
On Friday morning, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had both Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s new Prime Minister, on the phone.
– NATO respects each country’s right to choose its own path, writes Stoltenberg in a statement on Twitter after the conversation with Niinistö.
– The European security system is not possible to negotiate away. In Sweden, it is we who decide on our foreign and security policy, and who we choose to cooperate with, Andersson writes in a statement that was published ahead of today’s extraordinary foreign ministers’ meeting in NATO.
On Thursday, she had a conversation with the Finnish president, who after the meeting said that NATO’s “open door” line is important for Finland.