NATO reviews its options ahead of high-stakes Russia talks –

January 9, 2022 by No Comments

Ahead of two crucial meetings this week, the United States and NATO allies are discussing a number of ways to deal with the deteriorating relationship between Russia and the West, and the looming prospect of another Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Although US and NATO leadership have both expressed a strong desire for a diplomatic path forward, more aggressive options to support Ukrainian sovereignty against Russian aggression, including major trade restrictions, are reportedly on the table.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has adopted an increasingly bellicose posture toward Europe and the West, particularly over the past several months. Among other actions, an increasing number of Russian troops — about 100,000 at present, according to the New York Times — have been stationed along Russia’s border with Ukraine, possibly in preparation for a major offensive.

The Biden administration and the Kremlin are scheduled to discuss the US response to Russian military action in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, and a larger conversation between NATO member countries and Russia is set for Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium. Further talks about Russia’s actions and proposed security demands are also set to take place in Vienna, Austria, with member nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

After a virtual meeting Friday of foreign ministers from its member states, NATO promised a coherent response to protect Ukrainian sovereignty, and Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted in a statement Friday that the alliance is committed to a diplomatic approach with Russia.

“Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe,” he said. “NATO remains committed to our dual-track approach to Russia: strong deterrence and defense, combined with meaningful dialogue.”

But should NATO’s present tack — and next week’s talks — fail to deter Russia from action against Ukraine, Stoltenberg has signaled that NATO is prepared to pursue more aggressive options. Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO and thus the alliance is under no obligation to step in should Russia attack, Stoltenberg’s statements to the press show that he views Russia’s aggression in Ukraine as destabilizing to European security; and that should that security be threatened, there will be consequences for Russia.

“We have troops, we have forces,” Stoltenberg told reporters Friday, although he declined to discuss details. “We have the readiness. We have the plans to be able to defend, protect all allies, and we are constantly adapting, and also actually investing more now than we had done for many years in modernizing our military capabilities to make sure that we preserve peace in Europe.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned that the US was “prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression,” although it’s unclear exactly what form that response might take.

Sanctions are a well-trod path in the US-Russia foreign policy space, and other nations, including the United Kingdom, have indicated their willingness to increase economic pressure on Russia should upcoming talks fail to reach a diplomatic outcome.

Senior US officials told CNN’s Natasha Bertrand that the US is preparing economic blocks on Russia that would severely curtail the country’s ability to import goods like smartphones, aircraft, and car parts — damaging the Russian economy and putting it in the company of pariah nations like North Korea and Syria, which have similar severe trade restrictions.

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