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NATO allies urge Russia to withdraw forces from Ukrainian border

NATO allies on Thursday urged Russia to back off from its military threats against Ukraine and to pursue diplomatic talks.

Echoing a statement from EU leaders also issued Thursday, the military alliance members warned Moscow that “any further aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and would carry a huge price.”

Ambassadors in the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s governing body, met on Thursday at alliance headquarters in Brussels for a briefing by Karen Donfried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, who was just returning from a trip to Moscow and Kyiv.

In recent weeks, Washington has shared intelligence with allies about Russia’s large-scale military mobilization along the Ukrainian border and has warned about a potential imminent invasion.

In a statement following Thursday’s meeting, the allies also pushed back on Kremlin allegations of provocations by Ukraine or NATO. The U.S. has warned that Russia could use real or fabricated claims of aggression as an excuse for a military strike or invasion.

“We are gravely concerned by the substantial, unprovoked, and unjustified Russian military build-up on the borders of Ukraine in recent months, and reject the false Russian claims of Ukrainian and NATO provocations,” the allies said. “We call on Russia to immediately de-escalate, pursue diplomatic channels, and abide by its international commitments on transparency of military activities.”

Russia has insisted that it is not responsible for the long-running war in Eastern Ukraine. But a court ruling in a criminal case in Russia’s Rostov region on Thursday referred to evidence indicating that Russian military units are stationed in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk. In response to questions about the case, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman repeated Russia’s longstanding denials and insisted the court was mistaken.

Following a videoconference meeting between Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month, Russia issued a raft of demands including hard guarantees that neither Ukraine nor Georgia will ever join NATO.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said such membership issues are none of Russia’s business. And the allies reiterated that view on Thursday.

“We support the right of all countries to decide their own future and foreign policy free from outside interference,” they said. “NATO’s relationship with Ukraine is a matter only for Ukraine and the 30 NATO Allies. We firmly reject any attempts to divide Allied security.”

Relations between NATO and Russia have deteriorated badly in recent years. And in October, Russia shut its diplomatic mission to NATO, claiming hostility on the part of the alliance. NATO had stripped the credentials of some Russian diplomats, saying they were actually working as intelligence operatives.

In Thursday’s statement, the allies said they were willing to resume talks with Moscow at any time.

“We are ready for meaningful dialogue with Russia,” they said. “We reiterate our long-standing invitation to Russia for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in the near future.”

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