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Ahead of crucial talks in Brussels, US tells Russia: NATO’s doors won’t shut

WASHINGTON: Ahead of a crucial meeting between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Russia on Wednesday, the US stepped up its engagement with European allies.

Washington made it clear that Moscow’s proposal seeking a curtailment of the NATO’s engagement, activities and expansion in the east was a non-starter; and it reiterated its warning that any Russian aggression in Ukraine will result in “severe costs”.

Wednesday’s meeting is the second in a series of three dialogues between the US and Russia in different settings this week, even as tensions between the two countries have intensified in recent days over Russia’s military build-up along the border with Ukraine.

On Monday, US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman met her Russian counterpart, Sergei Ryabkov, in Geneva as a part of a strategic stability dialogue, focused on bilateral issues between the two countries.

On Wednesday, Brussels will host the NATO-Russia council. And on Thursday, permanent representatives to the 57-member Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which both the US and Russia are members, will meet in Vienna to discuss European security.

On Tuesday, Sherman met the NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and then ambassadors from the European Union (EU)’s political and security committee in Brussels. US state department spokesperson Ned Price said, “The meeting underscored the US commitment to work closely with the EU and its member states to address this urgent challenge together. They affirmed the United States’ and the EU’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The deputy secretary thanked the committee for their work to ensure any further Russian military invasion of Ukraine would result in severe costs, including coordinated economic measures, for the Russian Federation.”

From Geneva, after her meeting, Sherman had told reporters, “We were firm… in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters for the United States. We will not allow anyone to slam closed the NATO’s open door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance. We will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States. And we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about the NATO without the NATO. As we say to our allies and partners, ‘nothing about you without you’.”

Watch: ‘Where’s the proof?’: U.S calls out Russia’s no-invasion claim against Ukraine

These meetings are taking place in the wake of a Russian proposal in mid-December, whereby it has floated two draft treaties, one with the US and the other with the NATO. In its proposal of a new treaty with the US on security guarantees, the Russian draft states that the US shall “undertake to prevent further eastward expansion” of the NATO and “deny accession to the alliance” to the states of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Its second draft treaty seeks to effectively restore the NATO’s boundaries to its pre-1997 status, by stating that Russia and all parties that were member states of the NATO as of May 27, 1997 “shall not deploy military forces and weaponry on the territory of any of the other states in Europe”. The draft also asks “all member states of the NATO to commit themselves to refrain from any further enlargement of the NATO, including the accession of Ukraine as well as other states.”

In a separate briefing on Tuesday, US ambassador to the NATO, Julianne Smith, said that in all their prior consultations and meetings with allies, it had become “crystal clear” that not a single ally inside the NATO alliance was willing to budge or negotiate anything with regard to the NATO’s open door policy.

When asked about Russia’s demand seeking a restoration of the 1997 status of the NATO, Smith said, “Well, I think when you talk to NATO allies, one thing becomes clear in terms of consensus at the table, and that is that this alliance is not going to be rolling back time and returning to a completely different era where we had a very different alliance that was smaller and a very different footprint. I think we’re operating in today’s world with the NATO as it stands today, and I don’t think anyone inside the NATO alliance is interested in going back in time to revisit an era when the NATO looked a lot different from it does today.”

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