Russia and NATO meet for landmark talks on Ukraine crisis

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Sherman told reporters that Wednesday’s meeting between NATO and Russia ended with a “sober challenge by NATO allies to Russia” to respond to opportunities offered by the international community to de-escalate the situation at the border with Ukraine and to choose the path of diplomacy. .

But Sherman, who spoke forcefully of the West’s unified message to Moscow after the roughly four-hour session in Brussels, made it clear that the United States and its Western allies do not yet know what the president’s goals are. Russian Vladimir Putin after diplomatic meetings, with more than 100,000 Russian troops positioned on the Ukrainian border.

In statements Wednesday, Russian officials suggested that Moscow could resort to military action if political efforts failed. The warning came a day after the Russian military conducted live-fire drills along the border.

“When live fire drills are reported this morning. What is it about?” Sherman said, referring to reports of Russian drills. “Is this an invasion? Is it bullying? Is it trying to be subversive? I do not know. But this is not conducive to diplomatic solutions.

Asked by CNN’s Alex Marquardt if the Russians were committed to defusing, Sherman said no.

‘There was no de-escalation commitment, no,’ she said, before pausing and adding, ‘There was also no statement that there wouldn’t be. not.”

Sherman suggested that the Russians themselves may not even know how they intend to use or act on this week’s diplomatic talks with the United States and NATO. She said the United States believes progress can be made — if Russia engages on issues where interests overlap.

“There are a lot of things to work on, where we have places where we can improve mutual security. There are places where we can’t. But there is progress that can be made,” Sherman said. .

Sherman told CNN’s Christianne Amanpour on Wednesday that she believed Putin had amassed troops on Ukraine’s border in order to “pressure Europe and the United States, pressure Euro- Atlantic, to… intimidate, coerce and say ‘I have sticks that I can bring to this discussion’ too.”

Russia says situation is becoming ‘intolerable’

Following Wednesday’s meetings, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko warned that Moscow would resort to military measures if the political course failed to repel threats to its security, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.

“We have a set of legal military-technical measures that we will apply if we feel a real threat to (our) security, and we already feel it, if our territory is considered an object for targeted strike weapons,” said Grushko. told reporters, according to Russian state media. “Of course, we cannot agree with that. We will take all necessary measures to repel the threat by military means if that does not work by political means.”

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin also issued a statement on Wednesday that sounded pessimistic about the talks, saying it was NATO that was ignoring Russia’s de-escalation proposals – and warning that this could lead to Conflicts.

“The Russian side has repeatedly offered the alliance to take steps to de-escalate the situation,” Fomin said. “On the part of the alliance, Russian initiatives have been ignored. This creates preconditions for incidents and conflicts, undermines the foundations of security.”

Grushko said the Russian side told NATO countries that the current situation was becoming “intolerable” for Moscow.

During Wednesday’s rough meeting – which lasted longer than expected – Sherman said the United States and its NATO allies had once again made it clear that Russia’s demand that Ukraine not ever allowed to join NATO was a non-starter. Sherman called it “difficult to understand” how Russia could feel threatened by Ukraine when it has the largest conventional army in Europe.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, arrive at the NATO-Russia Council at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, January 12, 2022.

Wednesday’s session with the NATO-Russia Council was the second of three scheduled for this week. The US delegation led by Sherman met with the Russians on Monday, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will hold a session with Russia on Thursday in Vienna.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the meeting between NATO and Russia on the situation in Ukraine was “not an easy discussion” and that “differences will not be easily overcome”. , but added that NATO allies and Russia “expressed the need to resume dialogue.”

“We had a very serious and direct exchange on the situation in and around Ukraine and the implications for European security,” he told reporters. “There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues. Our differences will not be easily overcome, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia have sat down around the same table and engaged on important issues.”

US finalizes sanctions options

The Biden administration has sanctions targets and enforcement measures “ready to go when these tanks cross the border,” a senior administration official said.

“The final package will depend on exactly what scenario we face,” the official said. “But we’re no longer at the point where we just have a memo that lays out the options. We have concrete actions that we’re ready to hit the back button on.”

As CNN previously reported, the White House has been analyzing over the past few weeks the impacts that various sanctions options would have not only on Russia, but also on the European and American economies. Biden administration officials said Wednesday that the United States and its allies have determined that while harsh economic sanctions will likely have global economic ramifications, any spillovers can be managed.

Tensions are high on the border between Ukraine and Russia.  Here's what you need to know

“The European financial system and its overall economy are in much better health than in 2014, particularly in the banking sector,” one of the officials said.

The United States is also aware of the risk that Putin will try to retaliate against any economic sanctions by weaponizing the export of Russian gas to Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies. One of the officials said that if Putin went down this road, it would “strengthen Europe’s resolve to source elsewhere”.

“We are well aware of the potential impact of a reduction in Russian energy supply, both in the European market” and around the world, the official said, adding that a range of emergency options for this scenario was being developed.

Sources familiar with these contingencies said they include fuel switching, in which certain energy sources are replaced by others to meet demand, as well as increased imports of liquid natural gas from LNG-producing countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. . European authorities are also looking at how much buffer their storages would provide in case Russia stops exports, the sources said.

They pointed out that the Russian economy is also heavily dependent on gas export revenues.

Asked about efforts by some Republican members of Congress, particularly Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz, to sanction the Russian-German Nord Stream 2 pipeline and essentially kill the project, senior administration officials said that they thought doing it now would reduce Western influence. on Russia.

Even before the latest Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border, however, the Biden administration waived additional congressional sanctions on Nord Stream 2, arguing that it would damage US relations with Germany, which views the pipeline as a commercial project.

Russian troops conduct live-fire exercises

Wednesday’s meeting comes as the two sides are locked in a stalemate amid growing fears that Russia could launch an invasion into Ukraine.

Moscow has rejected these allegations. However, Russia mustered up to 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, and on the eve of the talks the military began live-fire exercises in areas near the border.

The United States, NATO and their allies are pushing Russia to defuse the situation. Moscow has demanded security guarantees from the United States and NATO, including a binding promise that NATO will not expand further east and allow Ukraine to join the military alliance , which NATO is not willing to do.

“At this point, let me be very, very clear – no one is suggesting that we change NATO’s policy on enlargement,” the US ambassador to NATO told CNN on Tuesday. Julianne Smith.

Rather than being framed as a bilateral NATO-Russia meeting, Wednesday’s meeting saw each of NATO’s 30 member states and Russia represented equally, in a forum of 31. The meeting is the second of three key engagements between the West and Russia this week.

On Monday, representatives from the United States and Russia sat down in Geneva for more than seven hours of talks.

The marathon talks, which the White House described as “frank and direct,” failed to produce a breakthrough. Another round of talks between Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – of which the United States is a member – are scheduled in Vienna on Thursday.

Ukraine said on Tuesday it was confident that the United States and other NATO nations would not make decisions “about the fate” of the country “behind our backs” at the meetings.

CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi, Michael Conte, Kylie Atwood, Ellie Kaufman, Luke McGee, Katharina Krebs, Nikki Carvajal, Alex Marquardt, Mick Krever and James Frater contributed reporting.

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