Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov on Friday warned that the Kremlin perceived the United States and its allies as stoking war in eastern Ukraine, a change of tone from Moscow just hours after Another Russian official said the Kremlin was happy with a phone call between the leaders of the two countries.
“The civil war in Ukraine, which has been going on for eight years, is far from over,” Lavrov said in remarks by the Russian News Agency. “The country’s authorities do not intend to resolve the conflict” through diplomacy, he added.
“Unfortunately, we see the United States and other NATO countries supporting Kiev’s militarist intentions, supplying Ukraine with arms and sending military specialists,” Lavrov said.
Amid high-stakes diplomatic talks over what the United States has described as a serious Russian military threat to Ukraine, Lavrov’s remarks were the latest in a series of conflicting comments from the Kremlin that have oscillated between disturbing and conciliatory, sometimes in the space of a few days. Earlier in December, Mr Putin said Moscow could resort to “military technical” means, referring to the use of force, if the talks failed.
But after President Biden and Mr. Putin of Russia spoke for about 50 minutes on Thursday, Yuri V. Ushakov, Mr. Putin’s foreign policy adviser, declined to say whether a specific threat of military action had arisen. Although the call ended without clarity on the Kremlin’s intentions after massing around 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, both sides said it was constructive.
The call was seen as an effort by both sides to shape the diplomatic landscape ahead of talks on the Ukraine crisis which will begin in Geneva on January 10 and then move to Brussels and Vienna later in the week, according to Russian officials. and Americans who informed journalists. Russia has called on NATO and the United States to withdraw forces in the region and pledge not to admit new members from Eastern Europe into the alliance.
In the appeal, according to US officials, Biden made it clear that Western countries would impose severe sanctions if Russia stepped up military activities along the Ukrainian border. Mr Putin warned that the imposition of new sanctions could lead to a “complete breakdown” of relations.
Still, officials in both countries rated the conversation positively. “In principle, we are satisfied with the contact, the negotiations, because they are open, substantial and concrete,” Ushakov told reporters during a briefing in Moscow on Friday morning.
Mr. Lavrov’s comments later in the day, on the other hand, rekindled a more confrontational tone. Ushakov had also said that concerns about US arms supplied to Ukraine had surfaced in the appeal, but underlined the respectful tone between the two leaders.
After Russian troops gathered near the Ukrainian border in the fall, officials in Moscow have repeatedly called the conflict in eastern Ukraine an urgent security issue for Russia, although ‘it has been brewing for eight years now between the Ukrainian central government and the Russian-backed separatists. Analysts viewed these statements with concern as Russian justifications for invading Ukraine.
Russian diplomats call the conflict a “civil war,” which Ukraine and Western countries reject as Russian soldiers and special forces instigated the uprising in 2014 and continue to fight on the anti-government side, while Moscow arms and funds what the Ukrainians call a combined separatist and Russian forces.
U.S. officials have declined to discuss the substance of the talks so far, insisting that, unlike the Russians, they will not negotiate in public. Russia released two draft treaties in December that the Foreign Ministry said it wanted the United States and NATO to sign, taking a public stand even before talks began.
Understanding the escalating tensions over Ukraine
A former Ukrainian official and member of parliament in Kiev said, speaking on condition of anonymity, that they feared the Biden administration, which has focused on China as the main foreign policy concern, is too suspicious. to upset Russia.
It was a dynamic evident in Thursday’s appeal. Mr Putin’s threat of a breakdown in relations in retaliation for Western sanctions may suggest that the Kremlin has found that Washington is more interested than Moscow in a stable bilateral relationship.
Mr Biden attempted a two-track approach, trying to deter Russia with unusually specific warnings about imposing a series of sanctions that would go far beyond what the West agreed in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, while simultaneously pursuing diplomacy negotiations.