The US has given Russia its written responses to a set of security demands by Moscow over Ukraine and NATO amid fears President Putin’s troops could invade the country.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the “ball is in Russia’s court”, as he added: “We’re ready either way.”
Russia has massed about 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border in recent weeks and is holding military drills at multiple locations in Russia, with similar exercises planned in neighbouring Belarus, which also borders Ukraine. Moscow has denied it is planning an assault on Ukraine. A Russian radar vehicle, part of a surface-to-air missile system, is pictured on its way to Belarus to join military drills
A Russian radar vehicle, part of a surface-to-air missile system, is pictured on its way to Belarus to join military drills
Mr Blinken said the US response made no concessions to Moscow’s main demand that Ukraine be prevented from ever joining NATO.
Washington has also made it clear that Russia’s push for the Western alliance to pull back troops and weapons from eastern Europe is also a non-starter.
The top diplomat said the document stressed the US is standing by its often-stated positions – “there is no change, there will be no change”.
He said the document, handed to officials in the Russian capital by the US ambassador, outlines a diplomatic path forward if the Kremlin chooses it, as America tries to avert a military offensive.
It contains a “principled and pragmatic” evaluation of Moscow’s concerns and reflects that the US is open to dialogue.
US ready to discuss arms control
Ukraine’s top-secret tank base
And Mr Blinken said the US is ready to discuss other topics such as arms control and confidence-building measures.
He added Ukraine and Washington’s European allies were closely involved in drawing up the document which he said would not be made public.
He said: “Putting things in writing is… a good way to make sure we’re as precise as possible, and the Russians understand our positions, our ideas, as clearly as possible. Right now, the document is with them and the ball is in their court.”
The diplomat said he expects to speak again to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov within days to find out what Russia thinks of the response.
Some 8,500 US troops have been put on heightened alert to go to eastern Europe to bolster NATO forces, but not to Ukraine itself.
NATO currently has about 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, backed by tanks, air defences and intelligence and surveillance units.
The written document delivered to the Russian leadership by America’s ambassador to Moscow is the written response to demands made by Russia weeks ago.
Russia issued a highly unusual eight-point draft treaty in mid-December which effectively demanded a fundamental shift in Europe’s defensive security measures.
President Putin called for the removal of NATO troops and weapons from counties who joined NATO after 1997.
He also called for an end to further NATO expansion, a demand which, if agreed to, would bring an end to the alliance’s open door policy. It would amount to giving Russia a veto on NATO membership.
Although the Americans won’t release their document (they argue that private diplomacy has more chances of success) they have made clear that none of the Russian demands have been met.
The Americans have simply repeated their willingness to discuss, in good faith, ways of mutually reducing arms in the region.
Critics are arguing that America is simply dancing to Russia’s tune by going along with a charade of document exchanges responding to undeliverable demands.
The concern is that it gives the Russians time to prepare for an invasion.
Of course it also gives the west time to hone their threatened sanctions, to bolster NATO defences in Europe, and to arm the Ukrainians.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has called on Russia to immediately de-escalate the situation.
He told reporters: “NATO firmly believes that tensions and disagreements must be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.”
He also repeated his call for Moscow and the pact to re-establish their respective offices in Brussels and Moscow, and to use military communication channels to promote transparency and reduce risks.
Earlier, the Kremlin warned it would quickly take “retaliatory measures” if the US and its allies reject its security demands and continue their “aggressive” policies.
Russia has been carrying out new military drills on land and on the Black Sea and moved more paratroopers and fighter jets to Belarus, north of Ukraine, for what it describes as joint exercises there next month.
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