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NATO, EU reject Russia's 'sphere of influence' claim ahead of meeting over Ukraine tensions

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By AP  with Euronews
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Ukrainian servicemen patrol Verkhnotoretske village near the frontline with Russia-backed separatists in the Yasynuvata district of Donetsk region.
Ukrainian servicemen patrol Verkhnotoretske village near the frontline with Russia-backed separatists in the Yasynuvata district of Donetsk region.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko

NATO and Europe's chief diplomat rejected Russia's claims that Ukraine is within its "sphere of influence" as anachronistic as the alliance's foreign ministers prepare to meet. 

Foreign ministers from NATO's 30 member states will meet by videoconference on Friday to assess the situation in Ukraine and upcoming talks with Russia.

The alliance is concerned over a Russian military buildup along the border with Ukraine with US intelligence suggesting Moscow could be getting ready to invade.

The Kremlin has denied any such plans but issued demands to NATO including a guarantee that Kyiv will never become a member state and that it will halt its eastward expansion with President Vladimir Putin arguing Ukraine is part of Russia's sphere of influence.

But NATO said they "reject any idea of spheres on influence in Europe" in an article posted earlier this week, entitled "Top Five Russian Myths Debunked".

"They are part of history and should remain part of history," the organisation added.

"Like every country, Ukraine has the sovereign right to choose its own security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security, one that Russia has also subscribed to and should respect," it wrote.

The EU's foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, meanwhile told reporters on Wednesday during a two-day visit to Ukraine that "the delimitation of spheres of influence of the two big powers [Russia and the United States] does not belong in 2022."

"We are no longer in the Yalta times," he stressed, referring to the post-WWII conference between the US, Russia and the UK that divided Germany and led to communist regimes being established in eastern European countries.

"The security of Europe and the security of Ukraine — because Ukraine is a part of Europe — is something that first and foremost affects Ukrainians, and Europeans," he added, calling for Kyiv to be included in upcoming talks between Washington and Moscow. 

The extraordinary meeting of the 30 alliance members will begin a week of intense diplomacy over Russia's military buildup on Ukraine’s borders and initiatives to ease tensions.

US President Joe Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Washington could impose new sanctions against Moscow if it takes further military action against Ukraine.

Putin has responded that such a move could lead to a complete rupture of ties between the two countries.

Putin and Biden have spoken twice over the past month, before scheduled talks between senior US and Russian officials on January 9-10 in Geneva.

Those talks will be followed by a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on January 12 and negotiations at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on January 13.