WATCH: Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks ahead of meeting with Russia

The United States and NATO on Friday roundly rejected Russian demands that the alliance not admit new members amid growing concerns that Russia may invade Ukraine, which aspires to join the alliance.

Watch Blinken’s remarks in the player above.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia would have no say over who should be allowed to join the bloc. And, they warned Russia of a “forceful” response to any further military intervention in Ukraine.

Their comments amounted to a complete dismissal of a key part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands for easing tensions with Ukraine. Putin wants NATO to halt membership plans for all countries, including Ukraine. The former Soviet republic is unlikely to join the alliance in the foreseeable future, but NATO nations won’t rule it out.

Blinken and Stoltenberg spoke separately following an extraordinary virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers. The meeting of the North Atlantic Council was the first in a series of high-level talks over the next week aimed at easing the tensions.

“We’re prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression, but a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable if Russia chooses,” Blinken told reporters in Washington. He categorically dismissed Russia’s claim that NATO had pledged not to expand eastward following the admission of several former Soviet satellites after the end of the Cold War.

NATO never promised not to admit new members Blinken said, accusing Putin of raising a strawman argument to distract from Russian military moves along the Ukrainian border.

“They want to draw us into a debate about NATO rather than focus on the matter at hand, which is their aggression toward Ukraine. We won’t be diverted from that issue,” Blinken said,

Earlier in Brussels, Stoltenberg made similar remarks as the allies prepared for the flurry of diplomatic contacts that will begin between the U.S. and Russia in Geneva on Monday and move to a NATO-Russia Council meeting and a pan-European meeting with Russia on Wednesday and Thursday.

The NATO-Russia Council was set up two decades ago. But NATO ended practical cooperation with Russia through the NRC in 2014 after it annexed Crimea. Wednesday’s meeting will be the first since July 2019. NATO officials say Russia has refused to take part in meetings as long as Ukraine was on the agenda.