Nato has warned Moscow to abandon its belligerent foreign policy and co-operate with the west or face a military alliance steeled for conflict, on the eve of a week of intense diplomacy
aimed at averting a Russian assault on Ukraine.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, said the US-led defence pact was prepared for “a new armed conflict in Europe” should negotiations fail, as western officials readied for potential discussions with Moscow on reducing the size of military exercises, arms control and a pledge not to deploy US missiles in Ukraine.
“I am aware of Russia’s history. For centuries they have experienced conflict with neighbours,” he told the Financial Times. “[But] Russia has an alternative: to co-operate, to work with Nato.”
President Vladimir Putin has denied any plan to invade. But he has warned of possible military action if the US and Nato ignore Moscow’s demands for new defence agreements
that would severely reduce US and Nato capabilities in Europe. Russia claims those capabilities are a threat to its borders.
“It is possible to find together a path, a political way forward, and also to address Russia’s concerns . . . But there continues to be a risk of conflict,” Stoltenberg said in an interview. “Nato’s deterrence is credible and strong . . . We have to hope and work hard for the best, but be prepared for the worst.”
His warning comes ahead of formal talks between Russian and US officials in Geneva on Monday, followed by a meeting of the 30-member Nato alliance and a Russian delegation on Wednesday. A third meeting hosted by the broader Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is set for Thursday.
Russia’s demands include a ban on Ukraine and other countries joining Nato and a Kremlin veto on alliance activities in member states that joined after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Stoltenberg said both of those were unacceptable
because they breached Nato’s “core principles” of offering membership to all and defending allies equally.
Instead, Stoltenberg said the US and Nato were prepared to speak with Russia about possible risk-reduction measures “like arms control, on efforts to try to have more transparency on military activity, exercises, and also on lines of communications”