NATO allies consult ahead of Russia talks
NATO foreign ministers held an emergency videoconference Friday to coordinate their approach to Russia's military buildup around Ukraine and to Moscow's security demands, ahead of crunch talks next week.
Tensions have soared in recent months as the West has accused Moscow of threatening a full-scale invasion of its neighbour by massing some 100,000 troops on its border.
High-ranking officials from the United States and Russia are set to hold talks in Geneva on Monday, after Moscow laid down a list of demands for Washington and the Western military alliance.
Those will be followed Wednesday by a meeting between Russia and all 30 NATO members -- the first such encounter since July 2019.
The Kremlin shocked the United States and its allies by publishing two proposed treaties late last year calling for NATO to rule out future membership for Ukraine and to roll back its forces near Russia's border.
The West has rejected what it calls a bid by Moscow to dictate the future of independent partners and has threatened Russia with "massive consequences" if it launches a fresh incursion of Ukraine.
But diplomats said there remain key differences among European allies over the approach NATO should take at the talks with Russia next week.
Some members insist the focus has to remain on getting Russian President Vladimir Putin to back off from Ukraine and that Moscow's proposals need to be rejected out of hand.
Others said the meeting could already help to kickstart a negotiation process and there are issues where there could be room for discussion.
"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," a French government source said Thursday in Paris.
"There are points that we can talk with Russia about, like stability and security issues."
Jittery European allies are also pushing to get a clearer picture from the United States of its game plan for the talks in Geneva amid deep unease despite Washington's reassurances that it will act in concert.
The European Union is fuming that it has been left on the sidelines and some in Brussels have warned against a Cold War-style deal between the United States and Russia.
"Whatever the solution, Europe has to be involved," EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.
Moscow's demands have also frayed nerves in non-NATO European allies Finland and Sweden, which have rejected claims anyone should have a say over the decision to join the alliance.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke to the leaders of the two nations Friday to insist the alliance "respects the right of every country to choose its own path".