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Behind United Front, the American approach to Russia destabilizes some allies

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Behind United Front, the American approach to Russia destabilizes some allies

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BRUSSELS — In public, the United States and its allies presented a united front this week in rejecting Russian demands to rule out NATO expansion and withdraw military forces from the alliance’s eastern flank.

Behind the scenes, some allies, particularly those close to Russia, are unsettled by several ideas floated by US officials during talks with Russian counterparts before they are aired with allies, according to diplomats from the Organization. of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Some allies learned about the idea of ​​a reciprocal reduction in the size and scope of military exercises from the media, they say.

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The possibility of designating certain areas of the Black Sea as no-go areas was first raised when US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman briefed NATO allies on Tuesday, following discussions with her Russian counterparts in Geneva on Monday.

Some allies want clarity on proposals to reinstate limits on intermediate-range missiles. A Cold War-era pact between the United States and Russia over the issues collapsed in 2019 after Washington accused Moscow of breaching the deal by setting up such systems, which could target European cities but not America.

The United States and NATO say that they did not make proposals to Russia but that they floated ideas. The United States is in talks with Russia, which has assembled tens of thousands of troops around Ukraine.

Senior diplomats gathered for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels on Wednesday.


Photo:

SWIMMING POOL/REUTERS

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there would be many more consultations among the allies before any proposals were made or agreements reached.

“If something needs to be turned into concrete proposals, let alone concrete agreements, then that is going to be discussed in detail with allies,” he said in an interview. “I felt the allies were absolutely reassured.”

At a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday, allies pushed back on key Russian demands for sweeping security guarantees, instead offering talks on more limited measures, such as increased transparency of military activities and scrutiny. armaments.

Some allies fear that, with NATO rejecting Russia’s basic demands, the United States will ask for minor concessions in an attempt to appease Moscow.

“NATO offers crumbs,” a European diplomat told NATO. “The United States could offer larger cuts of meat, mostly from the vulnerable part of the animal, which is the eastern flank.”

Behind United Front, the American approach to Russia destabilizes some allies

 |  Today Headlines

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO was considering how to bolster the eastern flank with more troops if Russia were to invade Ukraine.


Photo:

SWIMMING POOL/REUTERS

NATO has increased its presence in the east, sending around 5,000 troops to Poland and the Baltics, but Russia has an overwhelming superiority. Major NATO exercises, especially those that involve the rapid dispatch of US reinforcements across the Atlantic, reassure allies and deter Russia, making them reluctant to propose changes, diplomats have said.

The United States says it works closely with its allies, consulting them frequently to solicit their views.

“I would never use the word concessions,” US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told reporters on Friday. “There is nothing that worries me about it. We repeat the word reciprocal a lot.

Ms Smith said some differences of opinion were normal given the alliance’s size of 30 members, but members were united to continue the dialogue.

“There was broad support for engaging in dialogue,” she said. “Are there different points of view? Yes, each country brings a different story to the table, everyone sits in a different corner of Europe. Some are extremely close to Russia. Some have the impression that it is much further.

“NATO brings European allies to the table,” Stoltenberg said. “Nothing about them without them – NATO assures that.”

Mr Stoltenberg said NATO was considering how to bolster the eastern flank with more troops if Russia were to invade Ukraine.

Behind United Front, the American approach to Russia destabilizes some allies

 |  Today Headlines

A man stands guard in the separatist region of Donetsk, Ukraine.


Photo:

ALEXANDRE YERMOCHENKO/REUTERS

Write to James Marson at james.marson@wsj.com

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Behind United Front, the American approach to Russia destabilizes some allies

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