Sherman: NATO 'in complete unity' in response to Russian threats

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Wednesday said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) spoke with one voice in calling for Russia to de-escalate tensions along Ukraine’s border and rejected demands from Moscow that the alliance cease expansion. 

The deputy secretary’s remarks came in Brussels, at the end of a nearly four-hour session of an extraordinary meeting between Russian officials and the 30 countries that make up the NATO alliance, held in an effort to avoid a potential Russian-military invasion of Ukraine. 

Sherman, the number two State Department official who is leading the U.S. delegation in separate meetings in Europe this week, said the NATO-Russia meeting ended with “a sober challenge” for Russia “to de-escalate tensions, choose the path of diplomacy, to continue to engage in honest and reciprocal dialogue so that together we can identify solutions that enhance the security of all.” 

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The deputy secretary said that the Russian delegation did not commit, nor reject, NATO offers for follow-up discussions. The delegation further made no commitment to de-escalate, Sherman said, but added that they did not reject de-escalation.  

“Russia's actions have caused this crisis and it is on Russia to de-escalate tensions and give diplomacy the chance to succeed. ... There was no commitment to de-escalate. Nor was there a statement that there would not be.” 

The Biden administration has repeatedly rejected Russia’s demand that NATO cease expansion, referred to as the alliance’s “open-door” policy that allows any country to apply for membership.  

Sherman said alliance members spoke in “complete unity ... that all countries must be able to choose their own foreign policy orientation, that sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacrosanct, and must be respected and that all nations are and must be free to choose their own alliances.” 

The deputy secretary added that “the Russian delegation sat through nearly four hours of a meeting where 30 nations spoke. ... It was important for them to hear the unity that in fact, NATO really does speak as one, even though these are 30 sovereign countries who have different interests.” 

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The NATO-Russia meeting was the second of three major diplomatic engagements taking place in Europe this week. U.S. officials first met with Russian officials in a bilateral meeting of the Strategic Stability Dialogue in Geneva on Monday.  

The U.S. and European partners will hold another meeting with the Russian delegation in Vienna on Thursday at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). That meeting will also include Ukraine.

U.S. officials have played down the possibility of any major breakthroughs from the three meetings, describing the sessions as conversations laying the groundwork for further diplomatic engagement.  

“We expect, and had expected, that the Russian delegations at the SSD, here at the NATO Russia Council, and tomorrow at the OSCE will have to report back to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, who we all hope will choose peace and security,” Sherman said.  

“There is plenty to work on, where we have places where we can enhance mutual security,” the deputy secretary continued. 

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“There are some places we cannot, but there is progress that can be made. And everyone, Russia most of all, will have to decide whether they really are about security, in which case they should engage, or whether this was all a pretext and they may not even know yet.” 

The U.S. has homed in on Russia’s massing of 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border as an unprovoked military buildup and called for Moscow to return troops to their barracks.  

Russia says that it has no plans to invade Ukraine and that its military movements are training exercises, but has issued separate demands of the U.S. and NATO, in draft treaties published in December, to address what it says are its security concerns.  

The U.S. has said that the three diplomatic engagements in Europe are a chance for conversations on “reciprocal” steps both Western nations and Russia can take to address security concerns, such as agreements over missile deployments on the continent and increasing transparency and limits on the size and scope of military exercises.