Russia has warned it will resort to ‘military means’ if the West does not bow to its demands over Ukraine, after NATO’s chief said there is ‘a real risk for armed conflict.’
Meeting senior Kremlin envoys at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Western ambassadors unanimously rejected Moscow’s demands for a guarantee that Ukraine will never be admitted to the group.
The Kremlin also demanded that NATO rule out allowing Finland or Georgia to join the alliance, and for NATO to pull back from the ex-Soviet states that were brought into the group in 1997 – eight years after the Berlin wall fell.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Thursday that Europe had received assurances from the United States that nothing will be agreed with Russia without the bloc’s involvement.
‘With the United States over the last few days, we have had an extremely close coordination,’ Josep Borrell told reporters ahead of an EU defence ministers meeting in western France.
‘We have assurances that nothing will be decided or negotiated without close coordination with Europe and without the participation of the Europeans.’
Russia has warned it will resort to ‘military means’ if the West does not bow to its demands over Ukraine, after NATO’s chief said there is ‘a real risk for armed conflict.’ Pictured: A still grab from a video showing Russia military exercises that were ramped up amid on-going talks
After the alliance refused to meet Russian demands, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned there was ‘a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe’.
‘If Russia once again uses force against Ukraine and further invades Ukraine, then we have to seriously look into the need to further increase our presence in the eastern part of the alliance,’ Mr Stoltenberg added.
With talks failing to reach a breakthrough in Brussels, Russia cranked up its war games with live fire exercises, some close to Ukraine’s borders where it has an estimated 100,000 troops in forward positions.
The latest in a spate of Russian war games – seen on video – included tank, motorised rifle, reconnaissance and engineering units drills. These drills in the Moscow region involved more than 5,000 troops and 1,500 pieces of weaponry.
Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko warned that the Kremlin will use its armed forces if it fails to gain concessions from the West.
‘We have a set of legal military-technical measures that we will apply if we feel a real threat to (our) security,’ he said. ‘And we already feel (it), if our territory is considered as an object for targeted strike weapons…
‘Of course, we cannot agree with this. We will take all necessary measures to fend off the threat by military means if political means fail.’
Russian sniper exercises (pictured) took place in the Russian-controlled Transnistrian region of Moldova, which borders western Ukraine
The latest in a spate of Russian war games – seen on video – included tank, motorised rifle, reconnaissance and engineering units drills. These drills in the Moscow region involved more than 5,000 troops and 1,500 pieces of weaponry
But western ambassadors said Moscow would have no veto on Ukraine nor on any other country joining the alliance and warned it would pay a high price if it invaded.
‘Russia most of all 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,’ US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said.
Grushko – Sherman’s opposite number – agreed there had been no breakthrough, and lamented that, between them, Russia and NATO have no ‘positive agenda.’
‘The conversation was quite frank, direct, deep, intense, but at the same time it revealed a large number of differences on fundamental issues,’ he said.
Putin’s government has demanded the West rule out accepting new members like Ukraine, Georgia or Finland on its eastern flank and wants limits on allied deployments in the former Soviet allies like Poland and the Baltic states that joined NATO after the Cold War.
The allies have threatened massive economic and financial sanctions against Moscow if its huge troop build-up on Ukraine’s frontiers and in Russian-occupied Crimea turns into a new invasion.
Meeting senior Kremlin envoys at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Western ambassadors unanimously rejected Moscow’s demands for a guarantee that Ukraine will never be admitted to the group.Pictured: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks to the press outside the Lycee Naval in Brest on Wednesday
Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko (pictured speaking on Wednesday) warned that the Kremlin will use its armed forces if it fails to gain concessions from the West
Russia has put intense pressure on Ukraine since 2014, after a revolution overthrew a government that had sided with the Kremlin against moving closer to Europe.
Russia has seized and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea and Moscow backs an insurgency in eastern Ukraine in which more than 13,000 people have died.
Russia’s massive troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders has forced Washington to engage diplomatically – with bilateral security talks in Geneva on Monday, a NATO-Russia meeting on Wednesday and another planned at the OSCE in Vienna on Thursday.
But the Western allies have received no promise that Russia will stand down its forces – which Moscow insists pose no threat to its already partially-occupied neighbour – despite their threatening massive economic sanctions if the Kremlin unleashes an invasion.
Instead, the 30 member states invited the Russian envoys to return to Moscow and to advise Putin to join them for a series of confidence-building talks on limiting provocative military exercises, arms control and reciprocal limits on deploying missiles.
‘Russia was not in a position to agree on that proposal. They didn’t reject it either, but the Russian representatives made it clear that they needed some time to come back to NATO with an answer,’ Stoltenberg warned.
‘There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues.’
Russia’s massive troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders has forced Washington to engage diplomatically – with bilateral security talks in Geneva on Monday, a NATO-Russia meeting on Wednesday and another planned at the OSCE in Vienna on Thursday. Pictured: Russian tanks shown in video footage of Russian military drills
Putin’s government has demanded the West rule out accepting new members like Ukraine, Georgia or Finland on its eastern flank and wants limits on allied deployments in the former Soviet allies like Poland and the Baltic states that joined NATO after the Cold War
Stoltenberg said it would be impossible for NATO members to agree to Moscow’s core demands for a new security order in Europe, and in particular added that Russia would have no veto on Ukraine’s right to eventually join the alliance.
‘Ukraine as a sovereign nation… has the right to self-defence. Ukraine is not a threat to Russia,’ he said. ‘It is Russia that is the aggressor. It is Russia that has used force and continues to use force against Ukraine.
‘And then they’re building up, with around 100,000 troops, artillery, armour, drones, tens of thousands of combat-ready troops and threatening rhetoric – that’s the problem.’
Before Wednesday, the NATO-Russia council had not met since 2019. NATO and Russia broke off practical cooperation in 2014 after Moscow occupied and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
Russia’s diplomatic mission to the alliance was withdrawn in October last year after eight of its staff were expelled on allegations of espionage.
After the meeting, Sherman said: ‘Together, the United States and our NATO allies made clear we will not slam the door shut on NATO’s open-door policy.
‘NATO has never expanded through force or coercion or subversion. It is countries’ sovereign choice to choose to come to NATO and say they want to join.’
Amid the talks, both Latvia and Estonia said all Baltic states were pushing NATO to expand its military presence in their country as a deterrent to Russia.
Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier walks on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, January 10, 2022
Russia has denied any intention to invade Ukraine, despite a build-up of 100,000 troops on the border between the two countries. Pictured: A serviceman of Ukrainian Military Forces walks on the front line with Russia-backed separatists not far from Avdiivka, in Donetsk region, southeastern Ukraine on January 10, 2022
Just ahead of the talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said: ‘The continuation of NATO’s open-door policy and the further advancement of NATO towards our borders is precisely what, from our point of view, threatens us.
‘This is exactly what we are asking not to continue through legally-binding guarantees.’
Russian ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, warned that the West’s threat of mega-sanctions will not intimidate Moscow.
States Anatoly Antonov said in response to media questions: ‘We believe that the calls on the Capitol Hill for the introduction of ‘crippling’ anti-Russian estrictions, as well as personal sanctions against the top leadership of the Russian Federation, are provocative and hopeless,’ he said.
‘We will not be intimidated by restrictions…
‘Behind the demands of lawmakers to punish our country more painfully lies an attempt to influence Russia against the background of ongoing negotiations on European security.
‘We see such pressure as the inability of the United States to defend its point of view at the negotiating table in a reasoned manner.’
He denied any intention to invade Ukraine.
With talks failing to reach a breakthrough in Brussels, Russia cranked up its war games with live fire exercises, some close to Ukraine’s borders where it has an estimated 100,000 troops in forward positions. Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier seen on January 10, 2022
The envoy said ‘the alleged plan of an attack on a neighbouring state being hatched by our country are a figment of the sick imagination of local Russophobic circles’.
He claimed: ‘This is the result of their mental disorder. The answer is unambiguous.
‘We have no aggressive intentions towards Ukraine.
‘It seems that US politicians have launched the myth of an ‘imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine’ in the media and are now facing their own phobias.’
Russia appeared to ramp up its war games amid the on-going talks.
The ‘combat training’ included live firing by T-80 and T-72B3 tanks and BMP-2 amphibious infantry fighting vehicles against mock enemies.
The aim is to exercise on off-road terrain and ‘destroy enemy manpower using a twin machine gun and 125mm tank gun’.
Sniper exercises took place in the Russian-controlled Transnistrian region of Moldova, which borders western Ukraine.
Sniper drills were also underway in Voronezh, Belgorod, and Bryansk regions, which also border Ukraine, as well as Smolensk, said military reports today.
‘Unit commanders will learn how to counter snipers and batteries by means of motor and armoured vehicles with high-power firearms, including mortars,’ said a military spokesman.