Saturday, May 21

The crisis moves closer: Do not agree to meet again, but NATO keeps the door open for further dialogue

BRUSSELS (Aftenposten): Expectations were sky high. The drop is enormous. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg admitted that the meetings were just as demanding as feared.

Jens Stoltenberg received Alexander Grushko, one of Russia’s Deputy Foreign Ministers, at the important meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday morning.

– It was not an easy discussion, but it was important. We had serious and very direct talks, Jens Stoltenberg said when he met the press after the important meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday afternoon.

And he added:

– There is still great disagreement between us. And I have no illusions that it will be easy to bridge the contradictions. The positive is that we sat down at the same table.

The Russians back in the lion’s den

At 10 o’clock on Wednesday, the Russians were again in place in NATO’s huge headquarters outside Brussels. And was welcomed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

They had not been here since the summer of 2019. Russia then shut down the delegation in protest after NATO expelled what it believed were Russian agents.

And thus became the important contact body NATO-Russia Council also put on ice. But now the Russians had said they were willing to make a guest appearance in the council.

Wednesday’s meeting between Russia and NATO was considered one of the most important in this week’s great power diplomacy over Ukraine.

Four highly dramatic hours

Four hours later it was all over. It was powerful in overtime.

In recent days, Aftenposten has spoken to several NATO diplomats who follow the process closely. About expectations for the meeting and what will be the best or worst outcome.

And the surprising answer was:

-The best thing that can come out of the meeting is that we stay agree to continue talking together. It will be a great victory, says a diplomatic source in NATO.

The key players in Wednesday’s meeting: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Jens Stoltenberg, Alexander Grushko, one of Russia’s Deputy Foreign Ministers and Aleksandr Fomin, one of Russia’s Deputy Defense Ministers.

But even they did not succeed. But there was one scenario that would have been worse:

The biggest fear was that the Russians would leave the table in the middle of the meeting and return to Moscow without giving any signals about the way forward.

The Russians in the think tank

Despite the fact that the parties did not agree to meet again, the meeting is still not considered a complete disaster.

This is because both Russia and NATO expressed a need to resume dialogue and see if it is possible to find a way forward.

– We have offered Russia a series of meetings, but Russia was not immediately ready to respond to the invitation. But they did not refuse either. Russia will return with an answer, said the NATO chief.

The fact that the Russians have not completely rejected further dialogue is taken as a half victory.

Why is this a half victory?

Because the Russians have previously rejected all negotiations and warned NATO against believing that the alliance can train development by “talking forever”.

The demands they made before Christmas, that Ukraine and Georgia can never join NATO and that NATO must withdraw all its forces from the Eastern European NATO countries, were the ultimate demands. They had nothing to negotiate about, was the message.

The Russians are now traveling home to Moscow to get Putin’s consent to continue talks with NATO and the United States.

– We must be prepared for Russia choosing a confrontation, Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Wednesday.

But Stoltenberg is also prepared for the Russians to turn around:

– We must also be prepared for Russia to choose confrontation again. Any use of force against Ukraine will be a major mistake for which Russia will have to pay a high price.

According to the NATO chief, the alliance will then consider strengthening its military presence in the countries east of the alliance.

The way forward

The question now is how and where this jam-packed agreement should take place. And what topics will it be possible to talk about?

Nothing about you, without you

What is clear is that there will be no discussions about the principles and Moscow’s ultimate demands.

In addition, the United States is crystal clear that the further talks must take place with the relevant parties in the room. Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken’s mantra has been: Nothing about you, without you. Nothing about you, without you.

This means that when it comes to European security, the EU must be present. If we are talking about Ukraine, Ukraine must be present.

  • Some have suggested that the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), where Russia, the EU and Ukraine meet, could be a forum for further talks.
  • Another option that is mentioned is the so-called Normandy format, the diplomatic cooperation established during the armed conflict in the Donbass during the Ukraine crisis. The cooperation includes Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine.
The United States and Russia met for talks in Geneva earlier this week

What can they really talk about?

– There are a number of things that are completely inedible and impossible to discuss. But there are things we can talk to the Russians about, say NATO sources.

There is more openness about military activity between NATO and Russia. The fact that they inform each other about exercises, which forces are deployed where and other trust-building conditions. This way you can reduce the risk of misunderstandings and dangerous situations, especially in the air and at sea.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has been most specific: It may be appropriate to consider the deployment of weapons in countries near Russia’s border and to consider compromises in the way NATO exercises near Russia.

And perhaps the most important point: After the meetings in Geneva, Sherman has proposed discussing a renewal of the armaments agreement banning medium-range missiles with nuclear warheads (the INF agreement).

Jens Stoltenberg also highlighted balanced armaments control as an area it is possible to talk to the Russians about:

– We have succeeded in discussing this with the Russians before. There may be mutual reduction of conventional and nuclear forces. It works, it builds trust and it reduces the risk of war.

– We have not set any conditions. But one thing must be clear: Formal negotiations will not be relevant until Russia calms the rhetoric and reduces tensions on the border with Ukraine, Stoltenberg said.

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