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In fact, the talks went on longer than planned, setting back the rest of the day's agenda.

On a day when expectations were low, these were all good signs- nothing, it seems, went particularly wrong.

Certainly there were indications of a slight thaw in the deep-frozen relations between NATO and Russia, with proposals for more talks in the future and the spectre of reciprocal offices being reopened.

Stoltenberg stressed Nato wanted to continue talks with Russia and had proposed further meetings to discuss greater transparency over military exercises, arms control and reciprocal limits on missiles.

This may not have been a warm dialogue, but at least it happened.

Nato's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said there is "a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe" after talks between alliance members and Russia ended with no signs of progress towards defusing the crisis over Ukraine.

Ukraine has borders with a series of NATO members, all of whom are fearful of a Russian attack on their neighbour.

Such is the principle of collective defence, which means, in reality, that an attack on a NATO member would lead to a military response from all of them, including the United States.

But exactly how NATO would respond remains unclear.

The gamble is that President Vladimir Putin is dependent on Russia's economic strength to maintain the backing of the country's oligarchs.

So it's very hard to guess what happens next.

They need to do something," said Zagorodnyuk, who served as defence minister in 2019 and 2020.

The Ukrainian army would immediately move to “ small group tactics ”, he said, with regular soldiers working effectively as partisan units.

Zagorodnyuk predicted the Kremlin was more likely to launch a hybrid war.

Ukrainian government sources suggest Russia is considering a "staged provocation" inside Ukraine that could then be used to justify a bigger attack.

After months of sabre-rattling from Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, Russian officials have been on a diplomatic tour of Europe this week, meeting the US in Geneva and Nato in Brussels.

He said : “ The Russian side wasn ’ t prepared to go beyond agreed notes, agreed talking points, so in the end these meetings ended up being very formalistic without breaking any new ground. ”

Last month, Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance's military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday the manner in which the talks were held — "open, comprehensive and direct" — “ deserves a positive assessment, ” but it's the result that matters.

"There are still several rounds ( of talks ) ahead of us, which will allow us to work out a clearer understanding, a clearer picture of where we stand with the Americans.

For now, it's impossible to draw any conclusions, unfortunately," the spokesman added.

Russia has denied it has plans to attack its neighbor but pressed for legal guarantees that would rule out NATO expansion and weapons deployment there.

After the Russia-U.S. meeting in Geneva on Monday, Moscow and NATO representatives are expected to meet later this week.

Russia is also meeting the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which includes the United States.

"It gives me huge concern," Radosław Sikorski, a Polish former foreign minister, who now sits in the European parliament, told the Guardian.

Of course we should be there and I am astonished that we are not. ” The EU's foreign policy chief, then Catherine Ashton, was at the table with the US, Russia and Ukraine in 2014 in Geneva, following the invasion of Crimea.

Another Russian invasion of Ukraine is an obvious big test for "sovereign" Europe.

More than 100,000 Russian troops are stationed around Ukraine's borders and US intelligence has reported that 175,000 could be deployed by the end of January.

EU leaders have warned of "massive consequences" in response to any further military aggression against Ukraine.

Oligarchs close to the Kremlin could see their assets in western jurisdictions frozen.

Sikorski argues Ukraine has much bigger needs from European countries.

Tomáš Valášek, a member of Slovakia's parliament and former ambassador to Nato, argued against assuming the EU would be divided, pointing to the bloc ’ s decision to levy wide-ranging economic sanctions against Russia in 2014 – measures that remain in place.

"Historically the track record suggests that when Russia crosses red lines we do the right thing, rather than the opposite."

"What [ Putin ] has done more recently, with the massing of 100,000-plus troops in Ukraine, and now with the unprecedented demands of a security architecture, that has actually had a unifying effect.

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