No concessions in US response to Russian demands over Ukraine, says Blinken

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S., Politics
Secretary of State Antony Blinken

The US has made no concessions to the main Russian demands over Ukraine and Nato in a long-awaited written response delivered to Moscow, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

Mr Blinken said the US response, delivered to the Russian Foreign Ministry by US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, gave up no ground on “core principles” such as Nato’s open-door membership policy and the alliance’s military presence in Eastern Europe.

He said the document made clear that the US is standing by its often-stated positions. “There is no change, there will be no change,” he said.

However, he said the written response to Russia also contains “serious” offers for a diplomatic path to de-escalate soaring tensions over Ukraine by addressing Russian concerns on other matters.

Russia has warned it would quickly take “retaliatory measures” if the US and its allies rejected its demands.

Mr Blinken said he expects to speak again to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days to get the Russian reaction.

But he said that whether Russia accepts them is entirely the decision of President Vladimir Putin. “That is up to President Putin,” he said. “We’ll see how they respond.”

The US proposals, echoed in a separate document sent to the Russians by Nato, include the potential for negotiations over offensive missile placements and military exercises in Eastern Europe as well as broad arms control agreements as long as Russia withdraws its estimated 100,000 troops from the Ukrainian border.

Moscow has demanded guarantees that Nato will never admit Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations as members and that the alliance will roll back troop deployments in former Soviet bloc nations.

Some of these, like the membership pledge, are non-starters for the US and its allies, creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in a war.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it has plans to attack Ukraine but the US and Nato are worried about Russia massing its troops near Ukraine and conducting a series of sweeping military manoeuvres.

As part of the drills, motorised infantry and artillery units in south-western Russia practised firing live ammunition, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea performed bombing runs, dozens of warships sailed for training exercises in the Black Sea and the Arctic, and Russian fighter jets and paratroopers arrived in Belarus for joint war games.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers, Mr Lavrov said he and other top officials will advise Mr Putin on the next steps after receiving the US reply.

“If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures,” Mr Lavrov said.

But he indicated Russia would not wait forever. “We won’t allow our proposals to be drowned in endless discussions,” he said.

In a separate development, presidential advisers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met for more than five hours in Paris on Wednesday over the long-running conflict in the eastern part of the country involving Moscow-backed separatists.

Although there was no breakthrough, they promised to meet for new talks in two weeks in Berlin.

The French president’s office said in a statement after the talks that the parties support “unconditional respect” for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

The talks focused on the 2015 Minsk peace agreement aimed at ending the conflict, and the statement did not address the current concerns about a Russian invasion.

Ukrainian representative Andriy Yermak said the meeting went hours longer than expected and marked the first real advance in talks since December 2019. He said the talks organised by the French and Germans were crucial “even when things were not so tense and now we know it more than ever”.

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