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U.S. sends written responses to Russia on its demands over Ukraine crisis

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/26/2022 Robyn Dixon, Karoun Demirjian, Bryan Pietsch, Rick Noack
Journalists raise their hands as Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about Russia and Ukraine during a briefing at the State Department on Jan, 26, © Pool/Reuters Journalists raise their hands as Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about Russia and Ukraine during a briefing at the State Department on Jan, 26,

MOSCOW — The United States on Wednesday delivered written responses to Russia’s demands for security guarantees over NATO expansion and activities in Eastern Europe, as a senior U.S. diplomat predicted that Moscow may use military force against Ukraine sometime in the next few weeks.

The responses, which U.S. Ambassador to Russia John J. Sullivan hand-delivered to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters. The document also lays out concerns “about Russia’s actions that undermine our security” and it offers “our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground,” he added.

The initial response to the U.S. proposal was one of scorn from some in Russia. Russian parliament member Vladimir Dzhabarov, a senior figure on the Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee, said Washington’s unsatisfactory response had freed Russia to do whatever it saw as necessary. “Now our hands are untied, and we can do as we want,” Dzhabarov told the Russian news agency Interfax.

Russia, he stressed, had laid out specific red lines concerning the non-expansion of NATO, and if the United States was unwilling to meet them “then we will expand our positions.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Blinken’s top deputy, Wendy R. Sherman, said the United States sees “every indication that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is going to use military force sometime” soon. She said it was likely between “now and the middle of February,” while speaking in an online conversation with the Estonian president that was hosted by the Yalta European Strategy, a forum to discuss the future of Ukraine and Europe.

The United States’ written responses included proposals for improving “reciprocal transparency” between Russia and the West regarding “force posture in Ukraine” and military exercises conducted in the region, Blinken said. It also included proposals addressing the placement of missile systems in Europe and arms control, such as “our interest in a follow-on agreement to the New START accord that covers all nuclear weapons,” he said. Last year, the Biden administration agreed to extend New START until February 2026.

The document, Blinken said, “reiterates what we’ve said publicly for many weeks, and in a sense for many years: that we will uphold the principles of NATO’s open door, and that’s … a commitment that we’re bound to.” He noted that the responses “were fully coordinated with Ukraine and our European allies and partners,” and that their recommendations were “incorporated … into the final version delivered to Moscow.”

“NATO’s door is open, remains open, and that is our commitment,” he said.

NATO delivered its own written responses Wednesday to Russia’s embassy in Brussels, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Speaking in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the military alliance had conveyed written proposals to Russia “in parallel with the United States.” The document both called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, he said, while expressing the alliance’s readiness to “listen to Russia’s concerns and engage in a real conversation of how to uphold and strengthen the principles of European security that we have all signed up to.”

NATO’s responses also proposed “practical measures” including mutual briefings on military exercises. And Stoltenberg stressed that the alliance also called to “reestablish our respective offices in NATO and Brussels,” noting that Russia’s decision last year to “cut diplomatic ties with NATO … makes our dialogue more difficult.”

Blinken said that NATO’s response “fully reinforces ours” and that “there’s no daylight among the United States and our allies and partners on these matters.”

The U.S. and NATO proposals are nonetheless expected to fall short of demands Russia has made to bar Ukraine and Georgia from ever joining NATO and dramatically scale back the military alliance’s presence in Eastern Europe. Blinken said he expects to speak with his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in the coming days — and that in the meantime, he hopes the Russians keep the written proposals private.

A Russian army service member carries a howitzer shell during drills in the southern Rostov region in Russia on Jan. 26. © Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters A Russian army service member carries a howitzer shell during drills in the southern Rostov region in Russia on Jan. 26.

According to analysts, Russia’s military escalation near Ukraine’s borders is moving into a more advanced stage. Lavrov warned Wednesday that Moscow “would not sit idly by” as the West supplies Kyiv with lethal weapons, after Ukraine took delivery Tuesday of 79 tons of arms, including U.S. antitank missiles, intended for self-defense.

Speaking to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, Lavrov said: “It would suffice to mention the increasingly provocative exercises held near our borders, the drawing of the Kyiv regime into the NATO orbit, its supply with lethal weapons, and the push for its direct provocations against the Russian Federation,” according to an official transcript of his remarks.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for a diplomatic solution in four-way talks Wednesday involving France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

Here’s what you need to know about Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine

Macron will also put forward to Putin his own proposal to de-escalate the crisis in a phone call Friday, officials in Paris said.

Moscow has massed more than 100,000 troops and military equipment near Ukraine and is running simultaneous military exercises, as two weeks of high-level shuttle diplomacy has failed to resolve the crisis.

In meeting that Italian government tried to stop amid Ukraine crisis, Putin speaks to Italian CEOs via video

Macron is pushing a more proactive European role, as the United States seeks to maintain transatlantic unity on tough sanctions to deter a Russian attack.

But with the U.S. and NATO firmly ruling out Russia’s key demands — including an end to NATO expansion and removal of NATO forces and equipment from Eastern Europe — doubts remain about whether French efforts to revive the Ukraine peace process can help de-escalate the crisis.

© The Washington Post These countries are withdrawing embassy staffers from Ukraine amid growing fears of an invasion by Russia

The Paris talks are aimed at reviving the long-standing but stalled peace effort to implement the 2015 Minsk peace agreement and resolve the eight-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of breaching the Minsk deal, which has failed to end the war over two separatist Russian-backed areas in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The conflict has raged since 2014, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea, claiming more than 13,000 lives.

Tara Varma, head of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the fact that talks are taking place marks “a step forward.” But the entrenched differences between Russia and Ukraine make a swift breakthrough unlikely, a position complicated by Russia’s insistence that the war is an internal Ukrainian conflict, to which Moscow is not a party.

As Ukraine invasion looms, Europe fears Kremlin will cut off its gas supply

Some European leaders, particularly those with closer ties to Russia, have expressed a reluctance to confront the Kremlin too directly.

The Kremlin managed to leverage the divisions in Europe when Putin conferred with a group of leading Italian business executives in a videoconference Wednesday to discuss trade and economic ties. Italian government officials failed to persuade the group to call off the meeting.

Putin told the meeting that Russia and Italy have maintained high levels of economic cooperation despite global volatility and the pandemic, boasting that Russia’s “macroeconomic stability” makes it attractive to investors.

The event showcased Russia’s economic leverage — and the two-sided pain that would result in the event of sanctions. Moscow is a key gas supplier to Europe, and the companies that participated in the meeting, including banks and energy firms, have deep ties to Russia or investments there.

Despite cracks in the Western response, including diverging energy interests between Germany and other European Union member states, Varma said Europe has adopted a far more united position than Russia probably expected, and that Washington’s moves to consult European leaders played a significant part.

“The level of consultation has never been so strong,” she said.

“I don’t think Russia takes Europe seriously when it comes to military issues, and they thought that it would be very easy to destabilize the continent,” she said.

U.S. officials noted that limiting gas exports would also harm Russia, but that the Biden administration was nevertheless preparing for the scenario.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy, said the administration is “working with countries and companies around the world to ensure the security of supply and to mitigate against price shocks affecting both the American people and the global economy.” Biden plans to host Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar, one of the world’s largest exporters of liquefied natural gas, at the White House on Monday. The pair are set to discuss “ensuring the stability of global energy supplies” and channeling Qatari gas to Europe, the administration said.

Demirjian reported from Washington, Pietsch from Seoul and Noack from Paris. Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli in Rome, Perry Stein in Brussels, Loveday Morris in Berlin, and John Hudson and Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report.

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