NATO and Russia have agreed to continue high-level talks, according to the military alliance's secretary-general, as tensions persist over Moscow's military buildup at the Ukrainian border.
Jens Stoltenberg was speaking following the NATO-Russia Council -- the first of its kind since July 2019 -- on Wednesday that failed to produce a significant outcome.
The announcement that further meetings will be held between the two sides will be welcomed, however, as the West seeks to alleviate fears that Putin intends to invade Ukraine after amassing thousands of troops near the country's border.
Despite saying any talks would be difficult, Stoltenberg said that both parties had "expressed the need for dialogue and to explore a schedule of future meetings", even if a date has not yet been set.
He also reiterated the Western alliance's open-door membership policy, saying that any country - including Ukraine - has the right to self-determination and to decide its own security arrangements.
"All [NATO] allies are united on the core principle that each and every nation has the right to choose its own path," Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday. "This is enshrined in a lot of fundamental documents which are the foundation for European security.
"And allies agree that it is only Ukraine and 30 allies that can decide when Ukraine is ready to become a NATO member. No one else has anything to say. And of course, do not get a veto on whether Ukraine can become a NATO member."
This notion was repeated by the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who attended the meeting, despite Putin's ultimatum that the military alliance stops inviting new members.
She said the Russian leaders' demands "are simply non-starters".
"We will not slam the door shut on NATO’s open-door policy...We are not going to agree that NATO cannot expand any further," Sherman told reporters in Brussels.
Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal based in Moscow told Euronews that Moscow's muscle-flexing at the border should be seen as part of a much larger Kremlin strategy.
"From Russia's point of view, it's not about Ukraine, at least it's not about Ukraine only," Lukyanov said. "It's about how the security environment in Europe is being structured...and this idea, which prevailed after the Cold War, that the core of European security is NATO...What Russia is trying to do is to invite for discussion how it can be organised differently."
He added that guessing the Kremlin’s next move is impossible given that all the powers lies in Putin's hands.
"NATO is a military alliance. Russia is seen by NATO, rightly or wrongly, it doesn't matter now, as a rival, as an enemy," Lukyanov said.
"So, having said that, I think I have to conclude that the country [Russia] which is not a member of this alliance, has no chance to join and which is proclaimed officially as a rival has reasons to be concerned about further expansion."