Week of diplomacy aimed at easing Russia-Ukraine tensions looks set to fail as fears of escalation rise.
Russia has described its security talks with the United States and NATO this week as “unsuccessful”, saying there is continued disagreement on fundamental issues.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that the two rounds of discussions so far in Geneva and Brussels had produced some “positive nuances” but that Moscow was looking for concrete results.
The talks, which moved to Vienna on Thursday for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), are centred on Russia’s security demands from the West and its buildup up troops near Ukraine.
The military deployments have spooked Kyiv and its allies, prompted calls for the forces to be pulled back, and led to Western warnings of severe penalties on Russia should it launch an offensive.
Moscow has said it has no plans to invade Ukraine, which is already battling Russia-backed separatists in its east and saw the Crimean Peninsula annexed by Russian forces in 2014.
Russian officials have stressed that they can deploy forces on their territory how they choose and blamed NATO for destabilising the region.
The Kremlin’s list of security demands from the West includes legally binding promises that NATO will never allow former Soviet republic Ukraine to become a member and that the organisation will pull back troops from former Communist states in central and eastern Europe that joined the alliance after the Cold War.
The US describes the requests are “non-starters”, but along with NATO says it is willing to hold talks with Russia on arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures.
Poland says ‘risk of war’ at 30-year high
At the OSCE meeting, Poland’s foreign minister warned on Thursday that Europe is nearer to war than it has been in 30 years due to the current tensions.
Addressing envoys from OSCE’s 57 members, Zbigniew Rau did not name Russia, but mentioned tensions in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova – all countries with active or frozen conflicts involving Russia.
“It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years,” Rau said in a speech outlining his country’s priorities as it holds the organisation’s rotating chairmanship this year.
“For several weeks, we have been faced with the prospect of a major military escalation in Eastern Europe,” he said.
Poland is among NATO’s most hawkish members confronting what it sees as Russia’s revisionist ambitions in Eastern Europe.
“We should focus on a peaceful resolution of the conflict in and around Ukraine,” Rau said, calling for “full respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders”.
In response, Russia’s envoy to the OSCE said Moscow would take steps to defend its national security if needed.
“If we don’t hear constructive response to our proposals within a reasonable timeframe and aggressive behaviour towards [Russia] continues, we’ll have to take necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security,” said Alexander Lukashevich.
The US also has little hope regarding the latest round of talks; Washington has said it does not expect a breakthrough at Thursday’s meeting.