* NATO says it is ready to discuss confidence-building measures
* “There is a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe” -Stoltenberg
* Russia says it cannot consider NATO as peaceful (News throughout with statements, details)
by Robin Emmott, Sabine Siebold and Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS, Jan. 12 (Reuters) – NATO said on Wednesday it was prepared to hold talks with Russia on arms control and missile deployment to prevent any further conflict in Europe, as Moscow warned that the context was “very dangerous” and the course to be followed uncertain.
The differences between Moscow and the West seem greater than ever after four hours of discussions in Brussels between a Russian delegation and NATO, the second of the meetings organized this week in the hope of easing the tensions caused by the deployment. mass of Russian soldiers on the border with Ukraine.
Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, has let it be known that the latter is prepared to negotiate on weapons systems but that it will not allow Russia to veto Ukraine’s desire to integrate one day the Atlantic Alliance – an assumption that the Kremlin considers a “red line” and on which it calls for guarantees.
“There is a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe,” Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference. “There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia,” he added. “These differences will not be easy to resolve.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said his country was prepared to hold discussions on arms deployment and related verification measures, but would not allow Russian proposals to be picked off by the Westerners.
Speaking at length to journalists, Alexander Grouchko explained that Russia could not take seriously NATO’s position according to which the Alliance only has a defensive role and does not represent any threat to the country.
Russia, he added, will respond symmetrically to any attempt to contain or intimidate it.
“If flaws in the Russian defense system are sought, then there will also be a search for flaws in NATO,” warned the diplomat.
“It is not our choice, but there will be no other way if we do not manage to reverse the very dangerous course of events at present.”
Subsequently, Alexander Grushko warned that Moscow would resort to military means to neutralize security threats if diplomacy proved insufficient.
According to the Interfax news agency, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that NATO “ignores” Russia’s security proposals creates a risk of “incidents and conflicts”.
The discussions in Brussels, in the crowd of those between American and Russian representatives in Geneva, take place in a context of tensions unprecedented since the Cold War.
Russia has forced the West to negotiate on security in Europe by massing in recent months some 100,000 soldiers near its borders with Ukraine, according to estimates given by Kiev and Washington.
Moscow denies any desire to invade the former Soviet republic but demands binding commitments from the West to guarantee its own security, in particular that NATO will not expand in the East.
“IS THIS BULLYING?”
For the members of the Atlantic Alliance, the Russian demands, expressed in December in two draft treaties, are unacceptable, in particular when it is asked to return to the level of activity which it had in 1990, during the dislocation. of the Soviet Union, and not to accept any more new members.
US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said it was difficult to understand why a nation with nuclear weapons felt threatened by a much smaller neighbor and carried out military exercises near the Ukrainian border.
“Is this an invasion? Is it an intimidation?” Wendy Sherman asked reporters. “It is not conducive to obtain diplomatic solutions.”
Russia has not indicated that it will work on a desiccation, but has not said otherwise, the diplomat added.
Despite the differences, Jens Stoltenberg noted that it was positive that the 30 NATO countries and Russia “sit around the same table and discuss important issues”.
Alexander Grouchko said he did not remember such frank and direct discussions with NATO. Progress is possible, but there are issues that Russia cannot reverse, the senior diplomat said.
He warned that any further worsening of relations between Moscow and the West could have unforeseen consequences for European security.
Further discussions are scheduled for Thursday within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). (with Tom Balmforth, Darya Korsunskaya, Andrey Ostroukh and Andrew Osborn Moscow; French version Nicolas Delame, Jean-Stphane Brosse and Jean Terzian, edited by Blandine Hnault and Bertrand Boucey)