BRUSSELS — The leader of NATO said on Wednesday that “significant differences” remained between the bloc and Russia after four hours of talks aimed at holding off a further Russian invasion of Ukraine and calming tensions between Moscow and the West.
“Our differences will not be easy to bridge,” the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, told a news conference after the talks at the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels.
Mr. Stoltenberg said that NATO allies urged Russia to “immediately de-escalate the situation in Ukraine,” where close to 100,000 Russian troops have massed near the borders, and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors. Russian representatives did not commit to pulling back the troops, nor did they reject the demand, officials said.
NATO allies reaffirmed their refusal to accept Russian demands to stop further enlargement with countries that wished to join the alliance and to withdraw all allied troops from NATO members bordering Russia. Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state who led the U.S. delegation to the talks, called some of Russia’s demands “simply non-starters.”
“This wasn’t an easy discussion, but that is exactly why this meeting was so important,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, adding that NATO allies and Russia had “a very serious and direct exchange on the situation in and around Ukraine, and implications for European security.”
The meeting at NATO’s Brussels headquarters was the second stop in a diplomatic roadshow focused on the Kremlin, after talks in Geneva on Monday between Russian and American officials. Looming over the high-level diplomacy is whether the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, will invade Ukraine as he seeks to pressure the West to roll back NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe, or de-escalate.
The United States and its NATO allies hope that Mr. Putin will decide to negotiate, as he is now confronted with threats of punishing economic sanctions and even of new deployments in NATO allies bordering Russia.
Mr. Stoltenberg said that NATO allies offered Russia a series of further meetings on wider issues of European security, including arms control and missile deployments. But while the Russian delegation was generally positive, he said, they would or could not commit to a new meeting. That is another indication that even Russia’s top diplomats may not know what Mr. Putin’s intentions really are.
Briefing reporters in Brussels, Ms. Sherman said that NATO officials laid out for the Russians areas “where we can work together and make real progress,” including on arms control and greater transparency in military exercises. But she reiterated the U.S. position that Russia first had to pull back from threatening Ukraine, adding that the fate of the Moscow-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, intended to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany, would depend on Russian de-escalation.
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