NATO has said it is ready for talks on reciprocal arms control with Moscow but added that the alliance is united against the “real” risk of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

NATO foreign ministers met by video conference Friday to discuss Russia’s military presence on Ukraine’s borders as the alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the build-up continues.

“We support Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said, adding that NATO cannot compromise on the sovereignty of nations and permitting each nation to choose its own course towards membership.

“We are ready to engage in arms control with Russia, conventional and nuclear, but that has to be reciprocal,” Stoltenberg said. “We can’t end up in a situation where we have second-class NATO members where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them.

“The risk of conflict is real. Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe,” Stoltenberg added.

In December, Russia shared a list of combined grievances and demands with the US that included an end to NATO deployments on the alliance’s eastern flank and no further NATO expansion.

NATO has all but formally rejected these demands, saying Russia would not have a veto on the alliance’s membership or dictate its operations. Meanwhile, Moscow has sent roughly 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s borders.

Recently the leaders of Sweden and Finland, non-member states aligned with NATO, signaled that they see their decision to join NATO as their own right of self-determination in the wake of Russia’s troop movements near the Ukraine border.

What have members of the alliance said?
After the meeting, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics called it a “good meeting,” and said on Twitter, “Unity of allies, efficient, collective defense and support to our partners are main elements to tackle aggressive behavior of Russia.”

He added, “We are ready to engage in dialogue with Russia but not at the expense of our values or key principles.”

Diplomats have, however, said friction remains over how best to handle Russia.

A French government official told the AFP news agency, “Russia is offering a dialogue and we must not be afraid of that, even if the proposals put on the table by Russia are not all acceptable for us.”

EU leaders such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Munich Security Conference chair and former German ambassador to the US Wolfgang Ischinger have called for greater EU involvement in the crisis without detailing what that involvement might be beyond “security coordinator.”

However, the West has however warned of “massive consequences” should Russa launch further incursions into Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured his Ukrainian counterpart, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, of Washington’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” the State Department said.

What is happening next week?
US and Russian officials are scheduled to meet in Geneva next week.

On Wednesday, Russia will meet with NATO in the context of the NATO-Russia Council. It is the first time such a meeting will take place since 2019.

ar/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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