NATO foreign ministers to huddle ahead of Russia talks on Ukraine

NATO foreign ministers to huddle ahead of Russia talks on Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign ministers from NATO‘s 29 other member nations will gather virtually Friday ahead of a string of key diplomatic meetings with Russia aimed at trying to defuse mounting tensions over Ukraine, NATO officials said Tuesday morning.

The meeting, to be chaired by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, is just the latest sign of a rising urgency over Ukraine, after Russia has mounted a major build-up of troops and weaponry in recent months on its side of the border and demanded Kyiv drop any plans of ever joining the Western military alliance.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russian President Vladimir Putin now has the forces in place to launch a military incursion into Ukraine within weeks if he so chooses. President Biden and European Union officials have vowed to impose harsh economic and financial sanctions on Moscow if it does invade.

U.S., European and Russian officials are set to meet in a trio of meetings starting Jan. 9 in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna in an effort to defuse the crisis and deal with a string of security “guarantees” that Mr. Putin has demanded.

Russia claims its military build-up is a response to increasing militarization by NATO countries on its borders and the prospect of Ukraine and perhaps other countries joining the NATO alliance.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Stoltenberg have criticized Moscow’s recent saber-rattling and said no outside country can demand a veto over who joins the alliance.

Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and has been backing a pro-Moscow separatist movement that now controls a chunk of eastern Ukraine and is engaged in a grinding civil war with forces of the Western-backed government in Kyiv.