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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Explained: What happened at the NATO-Russia Council talks?

NATO has traditionally focused on Russia and the European neighbourhood, and recognises the need to deter “revisionist” and “militarily advanced” Russia, and the threat posed by rogue nations such as North Korea.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
January 13, 2022 8:59:16 pm
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko ahead of the NATO-Russia Council at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium January 12, 2022. (Reuters)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Russia discussed the ongoing situation in Ukraine and its implications for security in Europe. The talks happened at the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) which took place at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. NRC is a forum for consultation with Russia on security issues and cooperation.

NATO was founded in 1949, and is meant to ensure collective protection for its members — the United States, Canada, and American allies in Europe — against the threat of possible post-War communist expansion and aggression by the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union too, formed its own defence and political alliance with Eastern European nations as a counterbalance to NATO — the Warsaw Pact that was signed in 1955. This alliance was disbanded after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991.

NATO has traditionally focused on Russia and the European neighbourhood, and recognises the need to deter “revisionist” and “militarily advanced” Russia, and the threat posed by rogue nations such as North Korea.

Since April 2014, practical civil and military cooperation under the NRC with Russia has been suspended. This happened in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which NATO allies do not recognise and have referred to as “illegal” and “illegitimate”.

This was the first time since WWII that a European nation had annexed territory from another country. The region that Russia annexed in 2014 is now under Russian-backed separatists and even today fighting continues there.

What happened on Wednesday?

On Wednesday, the US and its allies rejected Russia’s demands of easing tensions over Ukraine, on whose borders Russia moved a large number of its troops last month triggering concern from Europe and the US about a possible Russian invasion of the country.

Earlier in 2021, around March and April, Russia deployed some security forces around Ukraine, creating another invasion scare. Analysis by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (ISSC) notes that at the time Russia claimed that it assembled forces for a military drill.

Russia’s demands, which it announced in December include not admitting any more members into NATO and to withdraw western forces from its Eastern Allies. For the US and EU, Ukraine acts as a significant buffer with Russia. Ukraine is also building a naval base in Ochakiv and another in Berdyansk, which Russia is not happy about.

These demands were largely rejected during Wednesday’s talks. More specifically, Russia also demands that Ukraine not be inducted as a member of NATO, a demand that has repeatedly been rejected by the NATO allies.

According to The New York Times, Russian officials have insisted there is no plan to expand the war in Ukraine, “while at the same time repeatedly making vague threats of ominous consequences, including military means, if the Kremlin’s demands are not met.” Further, the US and the NATO allies are hoping that Russian President Vladimir Putin will decide to negotiate with them because of threats of economic sanctions and new deployments in NATO allies that border Russia, the Times reported.

After the talks on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that it was not an easy discussion and that there are significant differences between the NATO allies and Russia, which 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 on substantive topics.”

“Allies made clear that they will not renounce their ability to protect and defend each other.Including with presence of troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. At the same time, both Russia and NATO allies expressed the need to resume dialogue and to explore a schedule of future meetings. NATO Allies are ready to meet again with Russia to have discussions in greater detail, to put concrete proposals on the table, and to seek constructive outcomes,” Stoltenberg added.

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