“We had a very serious and direct exchange on the situation in and around Ukraine. And the implications for European security,” Stoltenberg told reporters following the talks. “Our differences will not be easy to bridge.”
The secretary-general said despite the tough position that both NATO and Russia find themselves in, he believed the fact that the talks were held at all was a “positive sign.”
The meeting comes after a monthslong military buildup along Ukraine’s southern border in what the Kremlin has argued is a security precaution.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in December released a series of demands and said he needed a “guarantee” from the 30-nation alliance that it would not expand eastward into Ukraine.
Putin has argued that should Kyiv be able to join NATO, “bases and strike weapons systems” could be placed in Ukraine and would pose an additional threat to the Kremlin.
But the U.S. and NATO have repeatedly said they will not enforce a blanket ban on member admittance to appease Russia – a sentiment that was repeated Wednesday.
“Allies on their side reaffirmed NATO’s Open Door policy. And the right for each nation to choose its own security arrangements,” Stoltenberg told reporters.
“Allies made clear that they will not renounce their ability to protect and defend each other. Including with presence of troops in the eastern part of the alliance,” he added.
Stoltenberg did not say whether any progress was made in de-escalating tensions in Eastern Europe, but said NATO members again called on the Kremlin to dismantle its 100,000 troop presence amassed on the border and refrain from “malign activities.”
The Western nations proposed increased transparency when it comes to NATO military exercises in the region, arms control and a review of nuclear policies.
“NATO Allies are clear-eyed about the prospects for progress in these talks,” Stoltenberg said.
“All this means that our dialogue is difficult, but even more necessary,” he added. “NATO Allies stressed that they will make every effort to find a political way forward.”