NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Colonel-General Alexander Fomin, and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Alexander Grushko attend the NATO-Russia Council at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on January 12, 2022.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Colonel-General Alexander Fomin, and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Alexander Grushko attend the NATO-Russia Council at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on January 12, 2022. NATO / POOL/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia Neither Accepts Nor Rejects NATO’s Offer To Restart Talks

Representatives from Moscow and NATO members will talk with their respective governments about whether to continue discussions, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said.

Russia is considering a proposal from NATO to reestablish diplomatic ties and hold a new series of talks after Wednesday’s meeting between members of the alliance and leaders from Moscow. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the meeting in Brussels that he had proposed restarting dialogue between the alliance and Russia to discuss a wide range of issues, including Moscow’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine. He said officials from both sides expressed an interest in scheduling talks but made no firm commitments. 

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who met with her Russian counterpart in Geneva on Monday, also spoke to reporters after today’s meeting.

“The Russians were not ready to commit to the series of discussions that the secretary general will lay out, nor did they reject those discussions,” Sherman said.  “All of us, including Russia, have to go back to our governments to decide on next steps.” 

The four-hour meeting was “not an easy” one, Stoltenberg said, but the fact that it happened at all is progress. 

“It is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia sat down around the same table and engaged on substantive topics after two years where such things were not possible to convene,” he said. 

Moscow’s relationship with NATO has been rocky since 2014, when Russia illegally seized Ukrainian territory in Crimea. After the annexation, NATO stopped all cooperation with Russia, but kept channels of communication open. 

In October, the alliance expelled eight members of Russia’s mission to NATO, claiming that they were “undeclared Russian intelligence officials.” In response, Russia ended its outreach to NATO and closed the alliance’s office in Moscow. 

Stoltenberg said NATO is now seeking to restore diplomatic ties with Russia to allow for easier communication. 

“We have made it clear in the meeting today that we will actually reopen, reestablish both the NATO office in Moscow and also the Russian mission to NATO because we believe in dialogue,” he said. “If Russia is willing to sit down in a series of meetings addressing a wide range of issues, we are of course ready to prepare those meetings…That will be easier if we have a Russian delegation to NATO and a NATO office in Moscow, but of course we can do that even without those offices.”

Among those issues, Stoltenberg said, are increasing transparency about military exercises on NATO’s Eastern border, reducing threats to space and cyber assets, and launching arms control talks, including potential limits on both missiles and nuclear weapons. 

Russia’s top request is for NATO to not add any new members and to withdraw military troops and assets from allies on the Eastern flank. Stoltenberg said allies reiterated NATO’s position that any country can seek membership and that all countries have the right to protect themselves. He also pushed back against Russian narratives that the military build up along the Ukrainian border is in response to aggression from Kiev. 

“The whole idea that Ukraine threatens Russia is absolutely…upside down. It is Russia that is the aggressor,” he said. “This crisis is a making of Russia; therefore, it is important that they deescalate.” 

Stoltenberg said the alliance would consider boosting its military presence in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine again, to stop the “real risk” of an 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,” he said.

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