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Nato chief says conditions for peace in Ukraine ‘not there now’

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The conditions for a peaceful settlement to the war in Ukraine are “not there now”, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg has said, as he urged members of the western alliance to continue providing weapons to Kyiv over the winter because, he warned, Russia was preparing a spring offensive.

Stoltenberg’s remarks follow weeks of speculation over the potential for diplomatic talks over the more than nine-month-long war, and comments by senior western officials referencing possible negotiations.

“The conditions [for talks] are not there now because Russia has shown no sign of engaging in negotiations which are respecting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the Nato secretary-general said in an interview at the FT’s Global Boardroom event on Wednesday.

“It is for Ukrainians to decide when the time is right to start to negotiate and to agree the conditions,” Stoltenberg added. “Most wars and most likely also this war will end at the negotiating table.”

US president Joe Biden said last week he was willing to talk with Vladimir Putin about the Russian leader’s willingness to end the conflict, a few weeks after US military chief General Mark Milley said the winter could provide an opening to engage in talks with Moscow.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz used a telephone call with Putin last week to urge the Russian leader “to come as quickly as possible to a diplomatic solution including the withdrawal of Russian troops”.

Talk of a possible settlement with Moscow, especially one led by western powers, has alarmed Kyiv and its more hawkish eastern European allies.

But western defence and intelligence officials say privately that neither side appears willing to open potential peace negotiations at present, and that Ukraine’s steady recapturing of previously occupied territory over the past few months has demonstrated that Kyiv has the momentum on the battlefield.

Stoltenberg warned that Moscow was seeking a “break” in the fighting to prepare for a renewed assault early next year.

“What we see now is that Russia is actually attempting to try to have some kind of freeze of this war, at least for a short period of time, so they can regroup, repair and recover, and try to launch a bigger offensive next spring,” he said, urging allies to keep sending weapons to Kyiv.

“Now Ukraine has momentum,” Stoltenberg said. “I cannot go into the specific systems that we are now considering. We are always considering to add more [weapons] systems.”

“The paradox is that the more we want a peaceful, negotiated solution, ensuring that Ukraine prevails, the more urgent it is that we provide military support to Ukraine,” he added.

Emmanuel Macron, president of France, said last week that western countries needed to prepare a future “security architecture” and provide “guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table”, remarks that sparked ire in eastern Europe.

Stoltenberg said that Nato had tried to engage with Russia before the war and address security concerns raised by Putin, and that Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine would have “long-term consequences”.

“We need to realise that when this war ends, it doesn’t mean that we can go back to some kind of good or normal relationship with Russia,” Stoltenberg said, adding that Nato must “be prepared for a difficult relationship with Russia for a long time, meaning that we need to invest in our defence”.

Stoltenberg, whose term as head of the US-led military alliance was extended earlier this year until September 2023, deflected a question about whether he would consider a further extension.

“I have no other plans than to focus on my work until the end of September next year,” he said. “And that’s the only plan I have. And I’m certain that they will be able to find a good successor following me.”

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