The announcement by the Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday (12/25) that 10,000 troops deployed along the border with Ukraine had returned to their permanent bases did not reduce the concerns of Western officials who saw the risk of increasing Russian military action.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week showed his country’s willingness to join talks with the United States and NATO amid rising tensions over the deployment of more than 100,000 Russian troops near the border region between Russia and Ukraine.
In a televised interview on Monday (27/12), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia was still waiting for NATO’s response to various conditions on security guarantees sought from the West to hold the talks. This includes Russian defense officials and generals who will be taking part in the meeting.
“We have said that talks only make sense if there is direct military participation,” Lavrov said.
He added that talks with US officials would likely take place “right after New Year’s Eve,” but that Russia was still waiting for an agreement on the terms of its meeting with NATO.
The security guarantees the Russian leader wants will deter further expansion of NATO’s presence and will halt NATO’s military presence in the Baltic states or in central Europe that has joined the Western alliance since 1999.
The Kremlin has insisted that countries of the former Soviet Union, such as Ukraine and Georgia, should not join the Atlantic alliance.
Although the United States and its NATO allies have said they are willing to hold talks with Russia, a number of Western diplomats have warned that the current form of Russia’s proposal is not acceptable.
In conference call with reporters last week, US Undersecretary of State Karen Donfried said the prospects for the talks would be better if Russia de-escalated its military deployments along the border with Ukraine.
“Any dialogue with Russia must address the concerns of NATO and other countries about Russia’s continued threatening behavior and be based on the main principles and basic documents of European security. We will not compromise the core principles on which European security is built, and that all countries have the right to decide their foreign and security policies independently of outside interference,” he added. [em/rs]