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16th May 2022

Russia and EU far apart on security talks

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Russia has continued to talk over Europe's head to America about its threat of war, but the EU says it cannot be marginalised.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov addressed the US in his latest remarks on the Ukraine security crisis on Monday (20 December).

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"I think they [the US] will try to turn this into a slow-moving process, but we need it to be urgent, because the situation is very difficult, it is acute," he told Russian media.

He spoke after Russia recently demanded that Nato pulled out forces from the Baltic states and Poland and revoked ties with Georgia and Ukraine.

When asked if the EU would have a role to play in any talks on the new security guarantees, Ryabkov said he "took note" of its request to be involved.

But he added: "We propose that the United States should conduct bilateral negotiations on this topic".

"We will simply drown it all in debate and verbiage" if the EU took part, he also said last Friday.

Russia's Nato demands were so outrageous that some EU diplomats saw them as a red herring, designed to distract attention from the real problem - Russia's menacing military build up around Ukraine.

Others saw them as propaganda cover in case Russia chose to invade Ukraine once again.

"It would help Moscow to say: 'Look. We tried to talk with the West, but they wouldn't listen'," an EU source said.

For all the scepticism, the US and EU have said they were open to discussions with Russia on de-escalating the Ukraine situation.

But these would have to respect previous European peace accords and include all those concerned, they said.

"The Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter have already offered us key principles around which to build European security," an EU foreign-service spokesman told EUobserver on Monday, referring to a 1975 non-aggression pact.

"Every country is sovereign in its own foreign policy and security choices while at the same time respecting the territorial integrity of each other. This is something Russia has to understand and respect," the EU spokesman said.

"And, of course, the EU must be at the table of any discussion about European security architecture," he added.

It remained speculative on Monday whether any new transatlantic security talks would go ahead or which format they might take place in.

But for his part, Russia's EU envoy, Vladimir Chizhov, was more accommodating than Ryabkov, saying it would be "necessary" to include EU countries that were military powers.

"The EU as a non-military organisation can play [a] supporting role," Chizhov added.

That left open the questions which EU states would be taken seriously as mediators by both sides and what the EU foreign-affairs chief, Josep Borrell, would do.

France and Germany have, for years, represented the EU in 'Normandy Format' summits with Russia on the Ukraine conflict.

But Warsaw and other Russia-hawkish EU capitals fear Berlin and Paris have their own best interests at heart.

They also say Russia has been trying to cultivate EU friends to sow division.

"That [a Franco-German tandem] would be a dream scenario for Moscow, but it won't fly. The EU and Nato are more than France and Germany," an EU diplomat said.

"Russia is counting on a new 'Yalta'," he said, referring to the Soviet Union and Allied powers' division of Europe into spheres of influence after World War 2 at a meeting in Crimea.

"The West has to play this calmly, not to rush into anything, and to set the conditions [for any new security talks]," he added.

"Russia's trying to turn things upside down ... It's trying to hide its aggression against Ukraine behind its narrative about Nato's threat to Russia," the EU diplomat said.

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