Russia said yesterday that it is clear the United States is not willing to address its main security concerns in their standoff over Ukraine, but kept the door open for further dialogue.
The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) submitted a written response on Wednesday to demands that Russia has made for a redrawing of post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe since it massed troops near Ukraine, provoking Western fears of an invasion.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow needed time to review the response and would not rush to conclusions, but that US and Nato statements describing Russia’s main demands as unacceptable did not leave much room for optimism.
“Based on what our (US and Nato) colleagues said yesterday, it’s absolutely clear that on the main categories outlined in those draft documents ... we cannot say that our thoughts have been taken into account or that a willingness has been shown to take our concerns into account,” he said. “But we won’t rush with our assessments.”
The nuanced Kremlin reaction made clear that Russia was not rejecting the US and Nato responses out of hand or closing the door to diplomacy.
The Russian foreign ministry said the best way to reduce tensions was for Nato to withdraw forces from eastern Europe, but also sought to quash fears of an invasion.
“We have already repeatedly stated that our country does not intend to attack anyone. We consider even the thought of a war between our people to be unacceptable,” said Alexei Zaitsev, a ministry spokesman.
Russian and Ukrainian dollar bonds, which have been hammered by the crisis, rose after Peskov spoke.
Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS share index climbed and the rouble recovered from a nearly 15-month low.
However, in a sign of lingering international concern, oil hit seven-year highs above $90 a barrel.
Russia is the world’s second-largest oil producer, and the crisis over Ukraine has fanned fears that energy supplies to Europe will be disrupted.
Amid continued fears that Russia could invade its pro-Western neighbour, Washington and Berlin also warned they could target the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to double supplies of cheap natural gas from Russia to Germany.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price told National Public Radio (NPR) that despite concerns over gas supplies to Europe, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a possible target.
“If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward, and we want to be very clear about that,” he said.
The pipeline was completed in September but has not yet been approved by Germany for use.
Initially wary of linking Nord Stream 2 to the Ukraine crisis, Berlin has increasingly warned of potential consequences for the pipeline.
“We are working on a strong package of sanctions” with Western allies, and it covers several aspects “including Nord Stream 2”, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told parliament yesterday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was due to speak by phone yesterday with US President Joe Biden on issues of security, energy and macro-financial support, Zelenskiy’s spokesman said.
Russia’s security demands, presented in December, include an end to further Nato enlargement, barring Ukraine from ever joining and pulling back the alliance’s forces and weaponry from eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War.
The US and Nato responses were not made public, but both had already rejected those demands while expressing willingness to engage on issues such as arms control, confidence-building measures and limits on the size and scope of military exercises.
Turkey, a Nato member that has good ties with both Kyiv and Moscow, said that it is important to keep talking.
“All problems cannot be solved with a document, one or two meetings,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in Ankara.
Western countries have warned of economic sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine, building on measures imposed since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and Russian-backed separatists began fighting the Kyiv government’s forces in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian, Russian, German and French diplomats discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine in Paris on Wednesday and agreed more talks should be held in Berlin in two weeks.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the agreement on more talks meant Russia was likely to remain on a diplomatic track for at least two weeks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was hope of starting serious dialogue with the United States, but only on secondary questions, not on fundamental ones.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that he would speak to Lavrov again in the coming days and that the US response “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it”.
In comments published on his ministry’s website, Lavrov said President Vladimir Putin would decide Russia’s next move.
Putin, who has not spoken publicly on the crisis for weeks, has warned of an unspecified “military-technical response” – something defence analysts say could relate to missile deployments – if Russia’s demands are ignored.
Tass news agency quoted a senior Russian foreign ministry official, Vladimir Ermakov, as saying a nuclear missile crisis between Moscow and Washington is unavoidable without measures to ensure restraint and predictability.
He said Moscow believed Washington is preparing to deploy short and intermediate range missiles to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Biden has said he will not send US or allied troops to fight Russia in Ukraine but Nato has said it is putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets.
Four F-16 fighter jets flew to Lithuania from Denmark yesterday, and six US F-15 jets landed in nearby Estonia on Wednesday as Nato reinforced its eastern flank.
On the streets of Kyiv, there were concerns that Ukraine had been forgotten amid the high-level talks between Moscow, Nato and Washington.
“The United States is provoking Russia and Russia is provoking the United States. And somewhere in the middle is Ukraine,” said Dmytro Sylenko, a 23-year-old businessman.
“Honestly, I don’t care who is provoking whom, what matters to me is that there is peace. I don’t care about the rest,” he told AFP.
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