The US and its European allies coordinated their stance on January 11 ahead of new NATO-Russia talks to defuse the Ukrainian border crisis, as Kyiv demanded an international summit.
Envoys from Washington and Moscow held inconclusive talks on January 10 in Geneva on how to avert confrontation after Moscow deployed forces near Ukraine and demanded wide-ranging security concessions.
On January 12, NATO planned to renew suspended contacts with Moscow at a round of talks scheduled between senior diplomats from Russia and allied member states at their Brussels headquarters.
The US hopes the diplomacy will head off what it sees as Russia’s implied threat to launch a new military incursion into Ukraine – without giving much ground on Russia’s demands.
“It’s too early to tell whether the Russians are serious about the path to diplomacy or not, or if they’re prepared to negotiate seriously – we are,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
US President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman insisted: “NATO’S relationship with Ukraine is a matter only for Ukraine and the 30 NATO allies, not for other countries to determine.”
But Washington’s European allies are keen not to be sidelined, as President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin seeks to roll back what it sees as the West’s post Cold War encroachment on its turf.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on January 11 reiterated his demand that France and Germany join a new international summit between Moscow and Kyiv to end the conflict.
The French presidency said the Kremlin had agreed for France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine to hold talks “by the end of January”.
But the Ukrainian president’s spokesman Sergiy Nykyforov also welcomed “the intent and efforts of the United States and Russia, and NATO and Russia to reduce tensions and resolve all mutual issues at the negotiating table.”
“We trust our partners and their statements that no decision on the fate of Ukraine will be taken behind our back,” he said, in a video statement sent to AFP.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “unity” was key against what he described as “Russian ultimatums”.
US negotiator Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was at NATO headquarters to brief European allies.
She brought NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg up to date on her Geneva talks with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, and then met NATO ambassadors.
“The United States is committed to working in lockstep with our allies and partners to urge de-escalation and respond to the security crisis caused by Russia,” she tweeted.
With Stoltenberg, Sherman “affirmed a unified NATO approach toward Russia, balancing deterrence and dialogue”, and stressed “our unwavering support for Ukraine”.
After more than seven hours of negotiations in Geneva on January 10, the Russian and US officials both offered to keep talking, though there was no breakthrough.
At NATO, Russia will be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who described the meeting as “a moment of truth” in Russia-NATO relations.
Moscow’s demands include a concrete guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO.
The allies have long insisted that NATO membership is a matter for sovereign states to decide for themselves and vowed to preserve their open-door policy.