Nato defence ministers meet as Putin says Russia is open to more Ukraine talks

The Defence Secretary will join Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin amid ongoing tensions in eastern Europe.

16 February 2022

Ben Wallace will meet with fellow Nato defence ministers in Brussels on Wednesday as efforts continue to avert a war in Ukraine.

The Defence Secretary will join Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin amid ongoing tensions in eastern Europe as the alliance considers its response to the 130,000 Russian troops massing at Ukraine’s borders.

The meeting comes after President Putin said on Tuesday that Russia did not want another war, and was open to further dialogue with the US and its Nato allies.

In the UK, armed forces minister James Heappey said he was cautiously optimistic about news some troops were withdrawing from the Ukrainian border but added he would “continue to be very vigilant” of Russia’s actions.

The Prime Minister had earlier suggested there were “mixed signals” coming out of Russia about the prospect of an invasion of Ukraine, describing the situation as “not encouraging”.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, gave a televised address in the United States, in which he said an invasion was still possible and stressed the US would defend all Nato territory.

Biden
President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

According to reports, US intelligence sources believe an invasion could commence at 3am local time – 1am in the UK – on Wednesday.

Defence minister Mr Heappey welcomed news Russia was withdrawing troops, saying it gave the UK “some real cautious optimism”.

He told Channel 4 News: “If, as a consequence of a combination of things over the last few weeks, the threat of economic sanctions and the impact that that threat is having on the Russian economy, if the cost of military action has started to become clear, then that is a good thing that Russia may be moving in a different direction.”

He added: “But until those are matched by troop movements, people like me need to continue to be very vigilant and be very clear in what we are saying in communicating what we are seeing and the danger that that presents.”

Following a Cobra emergency committee meeting, Boris Johnson said the intelligence he has received about Russian military activity is “not encouraging”, with the construction of field hospitals and the movement of extra forces closer to the border suggesting preparations are still being made for an invasion.

While Mr Johnson acknowledged Russia had claimed it was withdrawing troops from the border, he added there were “more battalion tactical groups being brought closer to the border”.

“So, mixed signals, I think, at the moment,” he said.

Mr Johnson also said he would bring forward a new Economic Crime Bill in order to deal with “dirty” Russian money in the City of London.

The news was welcomed by both Labour and Conservative MPs, but Labour opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer warned the Prime Minister should “get his own house in order” by investigating whether the Tories had received any donations linked to Mr Putin.

Sir Keir also also encouraged the Government to “go now and go hard” in using economic sanctions against Russia.

Speaking after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, President Putin said Russia was ready for talks and emphasised the need for the West to heed his main demands.

He claimed the US and Nato had rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of Nato, and to roll back alliance forces from eastern Europe.

Ukraine – Russian tensions
Russian president Vladimir Putin (right).

The statement followed the Russian Defence Ministry’s announcement of a partial pullback of troops after military drills, adding to hopes the Kremlin might not invade Ukraine imminently.

However, the Russian military did not give details of where the troops were pulling back from, or how many troops were involved.

In the US, President Biden said an invasion of Ukraine “remains very much a possibility” and promised to defend Nato allies from attack.

In a televised address, he said: “While I will not send American servicemen to fight in Ukraine, we have supplied Ukrainian military with equipment to help them defend themselves, and provided training and advice and intelligence for that purpose.

“And make no mistake, the United States will defend every inch of Nato territory with the full force of American power.

“An attack against one Nato country is an attack against all of us.”

Russia was also admonished by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for failing to send a representative to a European security meeting about the tensions at the Ukrainian border.

She called for the Kremlin to “commit to meaningful talks” after it failed to send a representative to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting about its military build-up.

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