Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

NATO chief sees ‘real risk’ for new armed conflict in Europe amid Russia threats

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Moscow has made no commitment to order troops away from the border with Ukraine amid rising tensions with Kiev, said US officials. Many of Russia’s demands are considered “unreasonable”, including for a ban on Nato admitting new countries into the military organisation. The alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted “our differences will not be easy to bridge”.

But he said Nato was prepared to meet Russian delegations to discuss missile deployments, arms control and security concerns in the region. Moscow has not indicated if it will agree to additional talks.

Allowing countries to choose their own fate and whether they want to be part of Nato is a central pillar of the alliance. Mr Stoltenberg admitted more troops could be deployed to Europe’s eastern flank if Russia invades Ukraine.

Around 100,000 Russian soldiers have gathered on the border with Ukraine along with tanks, heavy artillery, drones and electronic warfare equipment. Mr Stoltenberg insisted the alliance would not allow leader Vladimir Putin to bully other countries into changing their security arrangements and expand his influence over them.

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The Kremlin denies planning to invade Ukraine but says it needs a series of guarantees for its own security, including a halt to any further Nato expansion and a withdrawal of alliance forces from central and eastern European nations.

Mr Stoltenberg said: “There is a real risk for new armed conflict in Europe. There are significant differences between Nato allies and Russia. Our differences will not be easy to bridge, but it is a positive sign that all Nato allies and Russia sat down around the same table. If Russia again uses force against Ukraine then we have to seriously look into the need to further increase our presence in the eastern part of the alliance.”

Russia held live-firing exercises on the Ukraine border on Tuesday. The Kremlin denied they are linked to the talks.

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