US, Nato rule out halt to expansion, reject Russian demands

Antony Blinken and Jens Stoltenberg say Russia would have no say over who should be allowed to join the bloc



Secretary of State Antony Blinken. — AP
Secretary of State Antony Blinken. — AP

By AP

Published: Sat 8 Jan 2022, 12:23 AM

Last updated: Sat 8 Jan 2022, 1:55 AM

The United States and Nato on Friday roundly rejected Russian demands that the alliance not admit new members amid growing concerns that Russia may invade Ukraine, which aspires to join the alliance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia would have no say over who should be allowed to join the bloc. And, they warned Russia of a “forceful” response to any further military intervention in Ukraine.

Their comments amounted to a complete dismissal of a key part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands for easing tensions with Ukraine. Putin wants Nato to halt membership plans for all countries, including Ukraine. The former Soviet republic is unlikely to join the alliance in the foreseeable future, but Nato nations won’t rule it out.

Blinken and Stoltenberg spoke separately following an extraordinary virtual meeting of Nato foreign ministers. The meeting of the North Atlantic Council was the first in a series of high-level talks over the next week aimed at easing the tensions.

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“We’re prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression, but a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable if Russia chooses,” Blinken told reporters in Washington. He categorically dismissed Russia’s claim that Nato had pledged not to expand eastward following the admission of several former Soviet satellites after the end of the Cold War.

“Nato never promised not to admit new members; it could not and would not,” Blinken said, accusing Putin of raising a strawman argument to distract from Russian military moves along the Ukrainian border.

“They want to draw us into a debate about Nato rather than focus on the matter at hand, which is their aggression toward Ukraine. We won’t be diverted from that issue,” Blinken said.

Earlier in Brussels, Stoltenberg made similar remarks as the allies prepared for the flurry of diplomatic contacts that will begin between the US and Russia in Geneva on Monday and move to a Nato-Russia Council meeting and a pan-European meeting with Russia on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We will not compromise on core principles, including the right for every nation to decide its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be a part of,” Stoltenberg said.

The Nato-Russia Council meeting will be the first in more than two years and will give Nato ambassadors the chance to discuss Putin’s security proposals with Russia’s envoy face to face.

Much contained in documents Moscow has made public — a draft agreement with Nato countries and the offer of a treaty between Russia and the United States — appears to be a non-starter at the 30-country military organization, despite fears that Putin might order an invasion of Ukraine.

Nato would have to agree to halt all membership plans, not just with Ukraine, and to end military exercises close to Russia’s borders. In exchange, Russia would respect the international commitments it’s signed up to on limiting wargames, as well as end aircraft buzzing incidents and other low-level hostilities.

Endorsing such an agreement would require NATO to reject a key part of its founding treaty. Under Article 10 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, the organization can invite in any willing European country that can contribute to security in the North Atlantic area, as well as fulfill the obligations of membership.

Blinken said Moscow was well aware that NATO would not accept the demands.

“Certainly part of (Putin’s) playbook is to put out a list of absolutely non-starter demands and then to claim that the other side is not engaging and then use that as somehow justification for aggressive action,” Blinken said.

Stoltenberg said the Russian military buildup that sparked the invasion worries has continued.


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