NATO Leaders Say They Won't 'Compromise Core Principles' in Response to Putin's Demands

As tensions continue to escalate between NATO and Russia, the organization is vowing to continue expansion into Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed the continuation on Friday during a conference. This marks a significant development in the rivalry between the organization and the country, as Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to end the expansion in exchange for eased tensions with Ukraine. That does not appear to be happening now due to Stoltenberg's comments.

"We will not compromise on core principles, including the right for every nation to decide its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be a part of," the Secretary-General told reporters.

He attributed this new commitment to the increasing build-up of Russian troops and military equipment appearing on the country's border with Ukraine. The latter country has accused Russia of intimidation as they have attempted to become a member of NATO. This move has recently been supported by NATO members the United States and Germany.

"We see armored units, we see artillery, we see combat-ready troops, we see electronic warfare equipment and we see a lot of different military capabilities," Stoltenberg said. When speaking to reporters, he said that the demands and the increasing military presence sends a message that there is a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe."

Stoltenberg on the 7th
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he talks during a press conference after the extraordinary meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Russia-Ukraine tensions at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on January 7, 2022. Stoltenberg warned that there remains a "real" risk of a fresh Russian invasion of Ukraine, as he insisted the US would not take decisions on European security without Europe at the table. Photo by John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts held online talks to prepare for the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in more than two years. The meeting, set for Wednesday in Brussels, will give NATO ambassadors the chance to discuss Putin's security proposals with Russia's envoy face to face.

Much contained in the documents that Moscow has made public—a draft agreement with NATO countries and the offer of a treaty between Russia and the United States—appears to be a non-starter at the 30-country military organization, despite fears that Putin might order an invasion of Ukraine.

NATO would have to agree to halt all membership plans, not just with Ukraine, and to end military exercises close to Russia's borders. In exchange, Russia would respect the international commitments it's signed up to on limiting wargames, as well as end aircraft buzzing incidents and other low-level hostilities.

Endorsing such an agreement would require NATO to reject a key part of its founding treaty. Under Article 10 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, the organization can invite any willing European country that can contribute to security in the North Atlantic area, as well as fulfill the obligations of membership.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and later backed a separatist rebellion in the country's east. Over more than seven years, the fighting has killed over 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine's industrial heartland, known as Donbas.

Russia denies that it has fresh plans to attack its neighbor, but Putin wants legal guarantees that would rule out NATO expansion and weapons deployments. Moscow says it expects answers to its security proposals this month.

Friday's meeting was the first in a flurry of high-level talks involving NATO, senior U.S. and Russian officials and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe over the next week.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that it's important to speak with Russia about its concerns, and that he will talk again with Putin "in the coming days."

"Dialogue does not mean giving in," Macron told reporters in Paris at an event to mark the start of France's six-month term at the helm of the European Union.

The NATO-Russia Council was set up two decades ago. But NATO ended practical cooperation with Russia through the NRC in 2014 after it annexed Crimea. Wednesday's meeting will be the first since July 2019. NATO officials say Russia has refused to take part in meetings as long as Ukraine was on the agenda.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ukraine Troop Exercise
Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, the military reserve of the Ukrainian Armes Forces, holding replicas of Kalashnikov rifles, take part in a military exercise near Kiev on December 25, 2021. The country has experienced escalating tensions with Russia over its commitment to join NATO. Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images