The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Friday roundly rejected Russian demands that the alliance curb its expansion and prevent new members from joining, referring to Ukraine with which it has a tense territorial dispute. 

Both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia would have no say on who should join the bloc. And they again expressed their determination against any military “intervention” by Russia in Ukraine, AP News reported.

The comments by the two leaders were not limited to a simple expression of ideals. Instead, they addressed an actual warning indicating that the organization is prepared to respond “forcefully” if Russia advances its troops on Ukraine.

The response comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin and other diplomatic leaders demanded that NATO not expand into former Soviet territories in the east and not open new military bases in those former Soviet states.

Blinken said regarding Russia’s proposed treaty that this is nothing more than a distraction from the buildup of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, which some see as heralding a possible invasion, as happened 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 in a press release, adding. “We won’t be diverted from that issue.”

Stoltenberg, for his part, also issued a warning to Russia, rebuking the nation for its request that NATO not 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. 

Bringing Ukraine into NATO would almost certainly mean starting a war in Crimea, given that, as stipulated by the alliance, an attack on one member is considered an attack on all the rest, so it must be responded to. 

In this regard, Stoltenberg clarified: “Ukraine is a very close partner. We provide support to Ukraine. But Ukraine is not covered by NATO’s collective defense clause because Ukraine is not a NATO member.”

The White House repeatedly expressed its unconditional support for Ukraine. On January 31, President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reaffirmed his readiness to defend “territorial sovereignty against the Russian threat.” 

In parallel, Biden had a 50-minute conversation last week with Putin. He reportedly told him that any action by Moscow against Ukraine would generate sanctions and an increased U.S. presence in Europe.

“I made it clear to President Putin that if he makes any additional moves, if he invades Ukraine, he will have severe sanctions. We will increase our presence in Europe, with our NATO allies, and the price he will pay for that will be very high,” Biden told reporters. He was leaving a restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware, where he spent the New Year’s holidays with his family. 

For his part, the Russian president said that new sanctions against Moscow would be “a colossal mistake.” During an end-of-year conference, he spoke about the conflict with Ukraine. He assured that Russia does not want to go to war, that the West promotes this idea, and that the territory of Ukraine was ‘historically’ Russian. Only with the fall of the Soviet Union was it awarded to Ukraine.

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