A Russian rocket launcher system is seen firing during military drills near Orenburg, Russia, on December 16, 2021. Various exercises and a troop buildup near Russia's border with Ukraine have escalated tensions between Moscow and the West. Photo courtesy Russian Defense Ministry via EPA-EFE
Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Russian and NATO officials met Wednesday for the first time in two years, and agreed that more dialogue is necessary to address concerns Moscow has about Ukraine joining the military alliance.
The issue of Ukraine was central at the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, which came amid deep concerns from Western nations about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been building for months.
"We had a very serious and direct exchange on the situation in and around Ukraine and the implications for European security," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, according to CNN. "There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues.
"Our differences will not be easy to bridge but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia sat down around the same table and engaged on substantial topics."
The talks are an effort to reach a diplomatic solution to de-escalate tensions over the Ukraine question. The United States met directly with Russia for seven hours on Monday in Geneva over Ukraine.
Russia wants what it calls security guarantees from Washington and NATO, including a legally binding agreement that NATO won't continue to expand further east -- something the United States and NATO are unwilling to do.
Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe will also meet for talks about Ukraine Thursday in Vienna.
The United States has previously said it's willing to discuss security issues with Russia regarding missile deployments and the size and scope of military exercises in the region.
"NATO is open and committed to a meaningful, reciprocal dialogue with Russia, but at the same time we stand united to deter threats against NATO allies and further Russian aggression against our partners in Europe," U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said, according to The Wall Street Journal.