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Trust between the West and Russia has been destroyed, says NATO chief


The West has tried to build bridges with Russia since the end of the Cold War, but any trust established in recent years was destroyed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Secretary General of the Russian Federation said on Monday. NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.

“NATO has worked for decades to develop a better and more constructive relationship with Russia,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Brussels.

“After the end of the cold war, we created institutions [like the] NATO-Russia Council, when I was Prime Minister of Norway, I remember President Putin attending NATO summits…so that was another time when we were working for a better relationship. Russia has walked away from all that,” he said.

Stoltenberg said a level of trust that had been established during a rapprochement between Western nations and Russia over the past decades had been destroyed by Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during the plenary session on the third day of the 68th annual session of the Parliamentary Assembly in the ground floor hall pavement of the auditorium of the Melia Castilla hotel, on November 21, 2022, in Madrid, Spain.

Alberta Ortego | Europa Press | Getty Images

“Even if the fighting stops, we won’t return to some sort of normal, friendly relationship with Russia. Trust has been destroyed,” he said. “I think the war had lasting consequences on relations with Russia.”

Stoltenberg’s comments come as the war in Ukraine shows no signs of abating over the winter period, despite expectations from some Western analysts that Ukraine and Russia may seek a lull in the fighting to regroup before to launch new counter-offensives in the spring.

This does not appear to be the case, however, with intense fighting in eastern Ukraine and missile and drone strikes continuing to harass Ukrainian villages and towns in the south and east of the country.

Russia also continues to shell Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with devastating consequences for civilians; Saturday’s drone strikes left 1.5 million people in the port city of Odessa without power, for example.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled last week that he was in it for the long haul, saying the so-called “special military operation” could be a “long process”. Russia insists its goal is to ‘liberate’ regions (Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south) it unilaterally and illegally ‘annexed’ after coercive referendums on joining Russia.

Ukraine has also shown no signs of letting up, especially as it tries to build on the momentum that saw it liberate chunks of Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson in the south and advancing east – although the war there, particularly in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, is considered hellish for both sides, with both forces dug into networks of trenches that stretch now through a devastated landscape reminiscent of the First World War.

Stoltenberg insisted that the war could end at any time if Russia chose to end hostilities.

“They [Russia] can do as many other European countries have done since the end of the Second World War, they can choose peace, choose cooperation, choose to trust their neighbors instead of always being such aggressive neighbors and threatening that Russia has done again and again against Georgia, against Ukraine.”

NATO: Even if the fighting stops, we will not return to some kind of normal relationship with Russia

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the job title of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

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