Diplomatic efforts are under way to try and defuse the mounting crisis on Ukraine's border with Russia
Vienna (AFP) - The world’s largest security body met in Vienna on Thursday, hoping to push Russia and the West towards dialogue to defuse a mounting crisis on Ukraine’s border where Russian troops have massed, sparking fears of war.
The United States and its European allies have accused Russia of deploying tanks, artillery and about 100,000 soldiers on Ukraine’s war-torn eastern border in recent weeks, in what NATO says is preparation for an invasion.
But Moscow says this is a response to what it sees as the growing presence of NATO in its sphere of influence, where it fiercely opposes the expansion of the Atlantic alliance.
Moscow and Washington have already underlined their “fundamental” differences on European security during tense talks in Geneva and Brussels this week.
Helga Schmid, the secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said the situation in the region was “perilous”, noting “the urgent need to reinvigorate the debate on European security”.
“It is imperative we find a way through diplomacy to deescalate and begin rebuilding trust, transparency and cooperation,” she said, opening the Vienna-based body’s first meeting of its permanent council this year, attended by all 57 member states including Russia and the US.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov cast a dampener on Thursday, saying: “I do not see reasons to sit down in the coming days, to gather again and start the same discussions”.
- ‘Risk of war’ -
Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau of Poland, which chairs the OSCE this year, said the tensions posed a “challenge” for the organisation, a multilateral forum for East-West discussions founded during the Cold War’s detente phase.
“It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years,” he said.
The US has admitted no breakthrough is expected at Thursday’s OSCE meeting.
“We must decisively reject blackmail and never allow aggression and threats to be rewarded,” Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the OSCE, told the meeting.
Earlier Carpenter had told independent Russian TV channel Dozhd that he didn’t expect any “concrete results this week”.
“Our main goal is, in principle, to establish a dialogue… Yes, our positions are polar, but this does not mean that there are no elements and areas on which we cannot agree,” he said.
The challenge, he said, will be to “determine in what forms it is generally possible to deepen the dialogue on this issue in the next few months or even a year.”
- ‘No negotiations under pressure’ -
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday that there should be no negotiations with Russian authorities over the fate of Ukraine so long as Moscow is massing troops at the country’s border.
“Russian movements are part of the pressure,” Borrell told journalists ahead of a meeting of European Union defence and foreign ministers, insisting that there “should not be negotiation under pressure.”
Talks are complicated by the unclear situation on the ground in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, where the OSCE has since 2014 been charged with ensuring peace accords are respected.
However that has failed to end fighting in the region, with conditions degrading for OSCE observers in areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists, a situation the US ambassador called “extremely worrying”.
“The monitoring missions have not yet recorded anything anomalous”, said Carpenter, while admitting that on the border “we cannot possibly know what is actually happening”.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also expressed his concern on Wednesday, saying the risk of conflict was “real”, and urged Russia to de-escalate.