(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. government and NATO on Wednesday provided Russia with separate written responses to its demands for security guarantees, and in both cases made clear there would be no compromise on the principle of the alliance’s door being open to aspiring new members that meet entry requirements.
Neither paper was released publicly, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken conceded the Russians may do so and the U.S. document has been shared with Congress, so leaks are widely anticipated.
“We’re not releasing the document publicly because we think that diplomacy has the best chance to succeed if we provide space for confidential talks,” Blinken told reporters. “We hope and expect that Russia will have the same view and will take our proposals seriously.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told lawmakers in the State Duma earlier in the day that his ministry would communicate the “essence” of the U.S. response document to the Russian public.
Amid tensions sparked by a significant Russian troop buildup near Ukraine’s borders, the papers were compiled in response to Kremlin demands, issued in the form of two draft agreements last month, for written “security guarantees” from the U.S. and NATO, including a commitment that the alliance will not expand further eastward.
Moscow’s draft U.S.-Russia agreement contained a specific undertaking by the U.S. to “deny accession to the alliance to the states of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” while its draft NATO-Russia agreement mentioned Ukraine by name in that context.
Former Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia have been seeking admission to NATO for more than 15 years.
Blinken and NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, in press briefings in Washington and Brussels, both outlined the main thrusts of the two documents handed to the Russians.
“It’s not a formal negotiating document. It’s not explicit proposals,” explained Blinken. “It lays out the areas and some ideas of how we can – together, if they’re serious – advance collective security.”
Asked whether the U.S. paper included telling “the Russians point blank in writing that ‘no’ is the answer to their demand for a formal bar on the expansion of NATO,” Blinken declined to get into “the specifics of the document.”
But he said it did reiterate that the U.S. “will uphold the principle of NATO’s open door.”
“Of course, it is for NATO, not the United States unilaterally, to discuss the ‘open door’ policy. These are decisions that NATO makes as an alliance, not the United States unilaterally. But from our perspective, I can’t be more clear: NATO’s door is open, remains open, and that is our commitment.”
President Vladimir Putin has characterized the further expansion of the transatlantic alliance into Russia’s backyard as a “red line” for Moscow.
In his remarks in the State Duma earlier, Lavrov said that if the papers from the West are not “constructive,” then Moscow will “take the necessary retaliatory measures.”
“Depending on the contents of that reply we and our colleagues from other agencies will draft our proposals addressed to President Vladimir Putin regarding further steps,” he said.
“There is a distinct trend towards downplaying our proposals and brushing them under the carpet in endless discussions,” Lavrov commented.
NATO: Russia must withdraw forces from Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova
In parallel to the document hand delivered to the foreign ministry by U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan, NATO on Wednesday provided Russia with separate “written proposals.”
Addressing an evening press conference in Brussels, Stoltenberg said NATO had reaffirmed “that every nation has the right to choose its own path.”
“So NATO respects a country or a nation when they decide to apply for NATO membership, as for instance, Ukraine, or when they decide to not apply for a NATO membership, as Finland and Sweden have done.”
He noted, however, that ultimately decisions on membership had to be made by consensus among the 30 current allies.
Stoltenberg said the paper handed to the Russians outlined “three main areas where we see room for progress.”
Firstly, NATO proposed that its office in Moscow and Russia’s mission to the alliance in Brussels be reopened, that existing military-to-military channels of communications be used fully, and that a civilian hotline for emergency use be established.
Secondly, NATO was prepared to engage in discussions with Russia over its concerns and have “a real conversation on how to uphold and strengthen the fundamental principles of European security that we have all signed up to.”
But he stressed that those included “the right of each nation to choose its own security arrangements” and also made clear that NATO wants Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, “where they are deployed without these countries’ consent.”
Thirdly, he said NATO was ready to discuss with Russia questions of risk reduction, including military exercises, nuclear policies, space and cyber threats, ways to prevent incidents in the air and at sea, and arms control, including dealing with “nuclear weapons and ground-based intermediate and shorter range missiles.”
To take the process ahead, Stoltenberg said, NATO allies were ready to hold a NATO-Russia Council meeting as soon as possible.
He reiterated that NATO remains committed to its founding treaty, and its article five collective defense commitments.
Other demands in the Russian draft documents issued in December included a call for a halt to the deployment of weaponry or holding of military exercises near its territory, and for a U.S. pledge not to establish military bases on the territory of ex-Soviet states that are not members of NATO.