‘Risk of conflict is real’ – NATO chief

NATO boss says the alliance is ready to negotiate with Russia, but does not rule out a ‘conflict’

NATO is open to hearing Moscow’s concerns, the bloc’s head Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday. However, he added that any moves to reduce Ukraine tensions must be reciprocal, and not undermine the European “security order.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg explained the bloc’s approach to negotiations with Russia during a press conference on Friday, following an extraordinary meeting of the member states’ foreign ministers.

The alliance’s boss squarely blamed the deteriorating relations and tensions around Ukraine on Moscow, reiterating the claims of a “military build-up” allegedly conducted by Russia on its neighbor’s borders. The allegations have been consistently dismissed by Moscow, which insists any movement of troops within its own territory is strictly its domestic business.

“The risk of conflict is real. Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe,” Stoltenberg insisted on Friday.

At the same time, the official signaled that the NATO bloc was not eager to enter a war with Russia over Ukraine. While the West has repeatedly warned Russia over severe “consequences” should it “invade” its neighbor – a charge repeatedly denied by Moscow – Ukraine is not a NATO member and an attack on it does not invoke the bloc’s collective defense, Stoltenberg reminded the journalists at the press conference.

We have to remember that Ukraine is a very close partner. We provide support to Ukraine, but Ukraine is not covered by NATO’s collective defense clause because Ukraine is not a NATO member. They are a partner.

The bloc is ready to engage with Russia on outstanding security issues, but Moscow should not expect any one-sided concessions from the alliance, Stoltenberg warned. He also expressed confidence that the US won’t make any concessions to Russia at the expense of the bloc’s European members.

“We are ready to engage in arms control with Russia, conventional and nuclear, but that has to be reciprocal,” Stoltenberg stated. “That’s a different thing – 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 top diplomats of NATO members got together for an online summit ahead of the upcoming US-Russia talks, as well as the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in years. The US-Russia talks, set to be led by high-level officials of the two nations, is scheduled to begin in Geneva on January 10. The NATO-Russia Council meeting, set to be the first one since 2019, is expected to take place on January 12.

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