Officials from the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Friday that they would not agree with Russia's demand for NATO to stop expanding.
''We're prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression, but a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable if Russia chooses,'' The Associated Press reported that Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Washington. ''NATO never promised not to admit new members; it could not and would not.''
Russian President Vladimir Putin and diplomatic leaders demanded that NATO not expand into former eastern Soviet territories and not open new military bases in those former Soviet states in return for promising not to deploy forces in states that would pose a ''threat'' to either side, a draft agreement from December said.
Blinken said the proposed treaty is nothing more than a distraction from Russia's building up its forces on the Ukrainian border, which some see as a possible prelude to invasion, just as when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
''They want to draw us into a debate about NATO rather than focus on the matter at hand, which is their aggression toward Ukraine,'' Blinken said. ''We won't be diverted from that issue.''
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also issued a warning to Russia, rebuking the nation for its request for NATO not to admit new countries into the organization.
''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,'' Stoltenberg said in the AP story. ''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 [on the Ukrainian border].''
According to the AP article, Ukraine cannot join NATO because doing so would compel it to go to war in Crimea because an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all allies.
''Ukraine is a very close partner,'' Stoltenberg said. ''We provide support to Ukraine. But Ukraine is not covered by NATO's collective defense clause because Ukraine is not a NATO member.''
Blinken and Stoltenberg said discussions could continue with Russia on arms control, but Putin cannot expect to dictate how NATO will protect its member nations close to the Russian border, according to the AP.
''We cannot end up in a situation where we have a kind of second-class NATO members; where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them in the same way as we protect other allies,'' Stoltenberg said.
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