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In Brussels, NATO officials will meet with Russian team on Ukraine


NATO has just wrapped up talks with Russia in Brussels. It was all an attempt to reduce tensions on the Ukraine border, where Russia has massed troops amid a series of demands. The fear and worst-case scenario - a land war in Europe. NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt has been covering all this, and he joins us now. Frank, where are we at? Was there any progress at all?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: You know, not if you listened to the press conference today afterwards with NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. Both sides seem really dug in for now. Russia - among its demands are it wants NATO to stop letting in new countries, particularly Ukraine because Ukraine has a large border - 1,200-mile border - with Russia. And it's also asked NATO to basically pull back its troop deployments to a time when NATO was much, much smaller, back in 1997. NATO - for its perspective, it says, you know, we'll keep talking to you, but we want you to pull your troops back from the Ukrainian border right now. So Stoltenberg says they're in the neighborhood of 100,000 Russian troops on the border there, which, you know, Ukraine finds naturally pretty threatening. So at the moment, what's not clear, Rachel, is an off-ramp in this dispute between Russia and NATO.

MARTIN: How do NATO leaders see the stakes of this, and how is the U.S. wrapped up in it?

LANGFITT: Yeah, the stakes here, I think, are really big. You hinted it at the beginning. The possibility of a land war with a major power like Russia in Europe is very frightening in the way that it could destabilize the region. And certainly, Russia has already done this before, to some extent. In 2014, it annexed Crimea. It also has troops in Georgia and elsewhere. And so I think the concern is that it just creates more tension in the region. The United States' interest is the United States is far and away the largest military power in NATO. It helped create NATO after the Cold War, and it was to defend against what was then the Soviet Union.

Well, what sort of happened here - of course, the Soviet Union collapsed, and NATO then began to expand in the 1990s. And this really upset the Soviets - or the Russians, at that point - certainly, and they felt to some degree like the United States was taking advantage of all of their problems. And so what you're seeing in recent years, particularly with Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia is pushing back, at least from his perspective, against NATO. The concern, though, is that we're just not - these are really - people have very different opinions here, and it's not clear how they can resolve it.

MARTIN: So the risk is a land war in Europe. And what, after this...


MARTIN: ...Everyone just, like, goes back to their Outlook calendars and says, let's schedule some more talks?

LANGFITT: Well, at the moment, right now, what NATO's offering is not what Russia wants. They're saying, well, we'll talk about limiting missile deployments in Europe. And they say if you go into Ukraine, we might deploy even more troops into some of our Eastern allies. And so we don't see a way out of this at the moment. There is a little bit of a time pressure here on Russia, in the sense that if it does want to make some kind of move - and most people do not think that Russia would actually try to take over Ukraine. It's an enormous country. But they might try to take a part of Ukraine, as they did in 2014. One thing is that the weather is a factor. When you get into late March, it begins to rain quite a bit, and that becomes a problem for Russian armor, moving around Ukraine. For the moment, they're still - both sides are certainly willing to talk. We're waiting to hear, of course, from the Russians. Their delegation hasn't commented yet, and it'll be very interesting and very important to see what their take is on how things went today.

MARTIN: NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt, thanks for all this, Frank. We appreciate it.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.