The US and NATO have formally rejected Russia’s demands to withdraw Western forces from eastern Europe and abandon Ukraine. “We cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which the security of our alliance and security in Europe and North America rest,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday (26 January). Also US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington has made no concessions to the main Russian demands over Ukraine and NATO, in a written response to Moscow. The Kremlin has demanded guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion, rule out membership for Ukraine and other former Soviet countries, and roll back its military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. But Blinken said Wednesday’s answer to Russia makes very clear that the US is standing by its principles. “There is no change, there will be no change,” he said.
Having already described Russian demands as “unacceptable”, Stoltenberg called on Russia to “immediately de-escalate the situation”, saying NATO believed in “dialogue and diplomacy”, not the threat or use of force. He went on to list several areas where he believed NATO and Moscow could cooperate — by reopening offices and increasing communication. Blinken also said that the US proposals offered Russia a “serious diplomatic path forward”. These included safeguarding the right of nations to choose their own alliances, he added. “We made clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances,” Blinken said. NATO, Stoltenberg said, was a “defensive alliance” ready to listen to Russia’s concerns on Ukraine and engage in real dialogue on upholding security arrangements in Europe that both sides had already signed up to.
The US has not given a positive response to Russia’s most important security question, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said. “On the main question in this document [from the US] there is no positive reaction. The main question is our clearly-stated position about the admissibility of further expansion of NATO to the east and deployment of strike weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation.” President Vladimir Putin “will decide on Russia’s next steps with regard to the US and Nato responses to the security proposals” Lavrov is quoted as saying in a Reuters snap. Meanwhile, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France voiced support for maintaining a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine after a round of talks in Paris on Wednesday (26 January). The negotiations were part of the Normandy talks, which aim to end the violence in that area. A joint statement released by the French presidency said advisers to the head of state of the four countries “support unconditional observance of the ceasefire”. “Despite all the differences in interpretations, we agreed that the ceasefire [in eastern Ukraine] must be maintained by all the parties in line with the accords,” said Dmitry Kozak, the Kremlin’s representative on Ukraine.