Russia marches one step closer to war – Putin rejects olive branch after high-stakes talks

Ukraine: Nato chief warns of conflict with Russian

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The four-hour talks held in Brussels come amid fears of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, in which both sides have accused the other of escalating tensions. NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said following the talks – the first between Russia and the bloc in two years – that the alliance had rejected demands to pull back troops and bar countries such as Ukraine from ever joining. Mr Stoltenberg repeated warnings that Russia, which has amassed 100,000 troops close to Ukraine’s border, would face economic and political sanctions if it invaded the country again, after its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in the past week to prevent such a scenario, beginning on Monday with talks between Russia and US officials in Geneva, which laid bare the chasm in expectations between the two sides.

Russian officials, however, had made clear “they were not ready” to agree to the new negotiations.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, said on Wednesday that Russia would wait for the outcome of further talks today with members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe before it decides on its next moves.

Russia feels the situation is in fact being ramped up by NATO over the notion of Ukraine never being allowed to join the alliance.

According to Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Grushko, the US-led NATO military bloc has reverted to a full Cold War strategy of “containment” towards Russia and seeks “full-spectrum dominance.”

The top diplomat added that Moscow believes NATO’s behaviour is creating an “unacceptable” threat to Russia that it will have to counter.

Mr Grushko also alleged that the bloc is responsible for ending any and all cooperation with Russia on key common security issues such as the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and piracy.

He called out the US over the “collapse” of the arms control agreements, bringing up Washington’s exit from the INF and Open Skies treaties and dragging its feet on extending the START programme.

Adding to the rhetoric, Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said: “We wouldn’t want to offer threats and ultimatums as American officials do.”

He added: “NATO’s open-door policy, NATO’s further expansion towards our borders – this is what we strongly believe creates a threat for us. That is why we are asking for legally binding guarantees.”

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said: “What happens next will be absolutely critical to peace and security in Europe.”

She added: “The only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate and engage in meaningful discussions.”

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Separately, Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told The Telegraph that Mr Putin was trying to build “the Soviet Union 2.0”, pointing to the presence of Russian troops in parts of Georgia and Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Mr Landsbergis urged the US and NATO not to pull back from Eastern Europe.

He said: “Putin was saying that the biggest political mistake of the 20th century was the dissolution of the Soviet Union.”

He added: “We see this federal feeling, this loss of empire and the need to rebuild it with events that are taking place everywhere.”

NATO and the US said they would never compromise on what they called the alliance’s “core principles.”

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman said: “Together, the United States and our NATO allies made clear we will not slam the door shut on NATO’s open-door policy.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that Russia will not tolerate Ukraine joining NATO under any circumstances, demanding the alliance never accept the former Soviet nation into the bloc.

However, US President Joe Biden assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Kyiv’s bid to join the NATO military alliance was in its own hands.

Ukraine’s ties with Russia collapsed in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow-backed forces seized territory in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv wants back.

Kyiv says some 14,000 people have been killed in fighting since then.

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