On 12 January, Russia and NATO will hold the first extensive security talks since Moscow was forced to withdraw envoys to the alliance in October 2021. The security meeting was prompted by the escalation around Ukraine and the Kremlin’s vocal concerns that the country might join NATO, leading to alliance troops being deployed at Russia’s borders.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that the bloc will not under any circumstances sacrifice its basic principle that any country may choose its own defence alliances. Stoltenberg further stressed that the alliance can’t accept the notion of creating “second-class” allies at Russia’s whim.
“We are ready to engage in arms control with Russia, conventional and nuclear, but that has to be reciprocal. That’s a different thing [from] imposing one-sided restrictions […] we can’t end up in a situation where we have second-class NATO members where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them”.
The secretary general’s statements come ahead of an upcoming security meeting between NATO and Russia on 12 January. It will take place mere days after Moscow’s security dialogue with Washington and will touch on the issues of tensions around Ukraine, security in Europe, and NATO’s eastward expansion.
The latter is troubling to the Kremlin, which calls the possibility of Ukraine joining the bloc a national security risk. Russia has pointed out that such a move would put the alliance’s missiles within minutes of reaching Moscow and that the country would have to take steps to respond to such a threat. The Kremlin rolled out a proposal ahead of the 12 January meeting that NATO drop the idea of ever bringing Ukraine into the bloc.
While the alliance has never ruled out Ukraine’s accession to NATO, it has so far also failed to provide a timeline as to when that might happen. Kiev, in turn, has made joining NATO a priority included in its constitution.
‘Real Risk’ of Conflict in Ukraine
The NATO chief went on to discuss the situation regarding Ukraine, claiming that a military buildup is continuing on the Russian side of the border. The Kremlin earlier reported that a significant portion of the troops stationed in the west of the country had left after taking part in routine war games.
According to Stoltenberg, the situation remains tense at the Russia-Ukraine border, claiming that there is still a “real” risk of a Russian invasion of the neighbouring country. The Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed allegations that it plans to invade Ukraine, calling such claims “fake” and directed at discrediting Russia.
“The risk of conflict is real. Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe”.