NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy participate in a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dec 16, 2021. (OLIVIER MATTHYS / AP)
BRUSSELS – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Thursday called for de-escalation of Russian military build-up on the eastern borders of Ukraine, vowing to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine while offering the opportunity for negotiation with Russia.
"We call on Russia to return to diplomacy, to de-escalate, and to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Brussels.
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Stoltenberg warned that "any further aggression against Ukraine will have severe consequences and would carry a high price."
We do believe that the diplomatic format negotiation will win.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President, Ukraine
Zelenskyy said he favored a peaceful solution. "We do believe that the diplomatic format negotiation will win."
The call was echoed by some EU leaders gathering on Thursday for their last summit this year.
Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg, called for open discussion between all involved parties. He said that the EU should extend an invitation to Moscow to try and appease tensions through talks.
EU heads of state are also discussing and preparing potential sanctions against Russia, should the country choose not to reduce its military presence on the Ukrainian border.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, second left, and French President Emmanuel Macron, center, walk in the hallway prior to a final media conference at an EU Summit in Brussels, Dec 17, 2021. European Union leaders met for a one-day summit Thursday focusing on Russia-Ukraine tensions and ways to deal with the continuing COVID-19 crisis. (JOHN THYS, POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
"Any aggressive action will meet with a higher political and economic cost," said Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on Thursday. He said the bloc is preparing "a full set of sanctions."
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has underlined the need to immediately begin negotiations on clear and internationally legal agreements against NATO's further eastward expansion and against the deployment of weapons in Russia's neighbors, primarily Ukraine.