NATO and Russia fail to bridge the gap at talks over Ukraine
Brussels, Belgium - NATO-Russia security talks ended as expected on Wednesday without specific steps forward, but with both sides willing to keep talking through tensions surrounding a build-up of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border.
"Our differences will not be easy to bridge, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia sat down around the same table and engaged," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after almost four hours of talks at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.
Moscow is not ready to commit immediately to new meetings with the Western military alliance but is at least open to dialogue, Stoltenberg said.
Russia has said the talks have hit a "dead end" and also wants an early decision on the security guarantees Russia has recently demanded from NATO.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said NATO was not willing to make concessions or take into account the security interests of other states.
Kiev and its NATO allies are increasingly worried that Russia could be preparing to launch a fresh incursion into Ukrainian territory. Moscow backs pro-Russian separatists in the contested eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, while NATO allies support Ukrainian government forces. The conflict has claimed thousands of lives.
Moscow denies it has any intention of aggression, but has vowed to retaliate if necessary and is meanwhile pushing its own new security demands. These include assurances that NATO will not expand further east, will reduce troops and weapons in Eastern Europe, and also that Ukraine will never join NATO - a major red line for the alliance.
Russia's permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Alexander Lukashevich, warned of delaying negotiations at an OSCE meeting in Vienna.
"Russia is a peace-loving country. But we don't need peace at any price," he said.
The talks will conclude with no concrete agreement
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday that Russia had now amassed more than 100,000 troops near the frontier with Ukraine.
"It is Russia's actions which are causing a renewed crisis not only for Ukraine, but for all of Europe and for us," she told reporters in Brussels. Sherman once again stressed Washington's readiness in the case of invasion to resort to fresh economic sanctions.
Russia says its security is threatened by NATO's advance: Many former communist states that were either part of or closely tied to the Soviet Union have joined NATO since the end of the Cold War.
The Western military alliance has dismissed the idea it could present a threat to Moscow, however, slamming the claim as absurd.
In Moscow, the Kremlin also rejected US criticism of fresh Russian military exercises taking place near the Ukrainian border.
"Military build-up and exercises will continue. This is a common practice of all armed forces," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
The meeting comes after US-Russian talks on Monday in Geneva, which similarly brought no concrete agreements.
All eyes are now on discussions due to take place in Vienna on Thursday within the framework of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe - the final episode in the week's flurry of activity.
Cover photo: IMAGO/SNA