BRUSSELS: NATO-Russia security talks ended as expected without specific steps forward on Wednesday, but with both sides willing to keep talking through tensions surrounding a build-up of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border.
"Our differences will not be easy to bridge, but it is a positive sign that all NATO allies and Russia sat down around the same table and engaged," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after almost four hours of talks at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.
Moscow is not ready to commit immediately to new meetings with the Western military alliance but is at least open to dialogue, Stoltenberg said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said NATO was not willing to make concessions or take into account the security interests of other states.
Kiev and its Western allies are increasingly worried that Russia could be preparing to launch a fresh incursion into Ukrainian territory, akin to its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Moscow backs pro-Russian separatists in the contested eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, while NATO allies support Ukrainian government forces. The conflict has claimed claimed thousands of lives.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday that Russia had now amassed more than 100,000 troops near the frontier with Ukraine.
"It is Russia's actions which are causing a renewed crisis not only for Ukraine, but for all of Europe and for us," she told reporters in Brussels. Sherman once again stressed Washington's readiness in the case of invasion to resort to fresh economic sanctions as western allies did in the wake of the 2014 incursion.
Moscow denies it has any intention of aggression and is meanwhile pushing its own new security demands. These include assurances that NATO will not expand further east, will reduce troops and weapons in Eastern Europe, and also that Ukraine will never join NATO - a major red line for the alliance and close partner Kiev.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Grushko accused NATO of pursuing a policy fit for the Cold War era, when the West's aim was to keep the Soviet Union down. Russia would defend itself against this, he stressed.
Russia says its security is threatened by NATO's advance: Many former communist states that were either part of or closely tied to the Soviet Union have joined NATO since the end of the Cold War.
The Western military alliance has dismissed out of hand the idea it could present a threat to Moscow, however, slamming the claim as absurd.
In Moscow, the Kremlin also rejected US criticism of fresh Russian military exercises taking place near the Ukrainian border.
"We are still talking about our units and our military districts on the territory of our country," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to state news agency TASS.
"Military build-up and exercises will continue. This is a common practice of all armed forces," Peskov said.
Expectations were low heading into Wednesday's talks, but NATO is hoping to draw Moscow into a sustained dialogue and stave off military escalation.
The meeting comes after US-Russian talks on Monday in Geneva, which similarly brought no concrete agreements. NATO conducted simultaneous talks with Ukraine in Brussels to prepare for Wednesday's talks.
All eyes are now on discussions due to take place in Vienna on Thursday within the framework of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe - the final episode in the week's flurry of activity.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on Wednesday for allies to step up diplomatic efforts and reduce tensions. "All diplomatic means should be used in order to improve European security," he said in Berlin.
This could in the future include stalled "Normandy format" talks between Moscow, Kiev, Paris and Berlin, Scholz said. These bring Russia and Ukraine together try to negotiate a peace deal.