NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg today rejected Russia’s call for the West to withdraw its invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance.
«NATO’s relationship with Ukraine will be decided by 30 NATO allies and Ukraine – no one else,» Stoltenberg said, at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Schulz.
«We cannot accept that Russia is trying to re-establish a system in which major powers like Russia have spheres of influence, where they can control or determine what other members can do.»
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that NATO should formally rescind the 2008 declaration by opening the door to Georgia and Ukraine, the two former Soviet republics.
«For the fundamental interests of European security, it is necessary to formally repudiate the decision of the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008 that ‘Ukraine and Georgia will become members of NATO,'» the statement read.
Russian forces now occupy two separate regions of Georgia, and Moscow has annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region while allegedly supporting separatist rebels in the neighboring Donbass region.
In the past few weeks, Russia has moved about 100,000 soldiers to the Ukrainian border, and the alarm has sounded in Washington and at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and US leader Joe Biden held two-hour talks, with the Kremlin chief calling on the West to ensure Ukraine does not become a launching pad for NATO.
Western allies are concerned about Russia’s military build-up, but have reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and warned Russia of profound «strategic and economic» consequences if it invades.
Stoltenberg was clear, insisting that while Western leaders were open to talks, they «would not compromise the rights of every country in Europe to decide their own path.
«This is enshrined in many documents and agreements that Russia also signed,» he said, citing European security agreements dating back to the Cold War era.
«It has been clearly stated that any independent, sovereign state has of course the right to choose its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be a part of.»
Schultz, who took office on Wednesday and was on his first visit as a NATO adviser, also warned Russia.
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«NATO allies agree that any further aggression against Ukraine will have a heavy price and serious political and economic consequences for Russia,» he said.
The German leader is under pressure to commit to halting the opening of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany if Moscow attacks Ukraine.
He did not promise to do so, but said: «We call on Russia to return to diplomacy, de-escalation and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.»
Ukraine and Georgia are not about to join NATO, which has struck a mutual defense pact that would rally other members to defend a partner in case they were attacked.
But the United States and some allies are helping train Ukrainian forces, and Washington has committed more than $2.5 billion to bolster an army that collapsed in the face of the Russian offensive in 2014.
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