US and Russia agree to continue talking amid Ukraine crisis, but Putin says concerns are ‘ignored’


The United States and Russia are continuing diplomatic engagements over Russia threatening Ukraine, according to senior State Department officials, after top diplomats from the two countries spoke on Tuesday.

But as talks continue, there have been no results yet – with more than 100,000 Russian troops still massed on Ukraine’s borders, including increasingly in its northern neighbor Belarus.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin said the United States had “ignored” Russia’s main demands that NATO prevent Ukraine from joining and withdrawing allied troops from Eastern European countries – its first comments on the crisis for more than a month.

But his government is still analyzing the US response to Russia, set out in a formal proposal hand-delivered by the US ambassador to Moscow last week, he said.

In a critical call on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “agreed that the ideas from both sides that were exchanged formed the basis for a potential serious discussion on a series questions,” said a senior official. State Department official.

These ideas include issues such as arms control and greater transparency in military exercises, they added, expressing hope that Russia’s continued engagement could lay the groundwork for genuine negotiations.

But for now, Russia is still formulating its response to those U.S. ideas, Lavrov told Blinken, calling the issues “important in their own way, but secondary” to the main demands of the Russian Federation. Russia.

Putin dug into NATO on Tuesday during a press conference with Viktor Orbán, the autocratic prime minister of NATO member Hungary.

“NATO promised us that they would not move their infrastructure one inch further east. Everyone knows that. Today we see where NATO is – Poland, Romania , the Baltic States. They said one thing and did another thing. People say they played us – they just lied. OK, that’s fine,” the Russian leader said.

US officials said the United States and NATO never promised not to expand eastward and that joining the Western military alliance was the decision of any country and the NATO. But for years Putin has decried the alliance as a threat to Moscow, even as Russia has invaded Ukraine and Georgia, illegitimately stationed troops in Moldova and carried out cyberattacks on the US, UK and others.

He also accused Ukraine, “full of weapons”, of seeking to join NATO to start a conflict with Russia over Crimea with NATO support. Crimea is the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia seized in 2014 – a land grab that the international community failed to recognize – as Russian forces fomented conflict in Ukraine’s eastern provinces known as from Donbass.

This is exactly the pretext for a new Russian attack on Ukraine that US officials have said they fear Moscow is planning.

Putin’s heightened rhetoric was widely dismissed by the Biden administration on Tuesday, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying, “I’ll leave it to the Kremlinologists out there – budding professionals, amateurs or otherwise – to read the tea leaves and try to interpret the meaning of these remarks, but for our part we do not necessarily need to do so because we know that a formal response from the Russian Federation is imminent.

When that response is finalized, it will be sent to Putin for approval and then forwarded to the United States, senior State Department officials said, and after that Blinken and Lavrov plan to speak again.

Pressed on whether the Russians could buy time or delay another attack on Ukraine, a second senior State Department official said: “Because we are not doing this, President Putin has made a decision [on whether to further invade Ukraine]we believe it is important to keep the diplomatic option on the table – so to the extent Russia wants to engage in that diplomatic avenue, we are also open to pursuing that diplomatic engagement.”

Blinken and Lavrov disagreed on when or how those talks would continue, but the United States asked that they include one-on-one meetings, as well as negotiations between NATO and Russia and a dialogue within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Cold War-era forum that includes the United States, Russia and Ukraine.

On Monday, Moscow sent the United States, as well as all OSCE members and several NATO allies, a similar letter asking for clarification on the security principles enshrined in one of the key documents of the OSCE, the Helsinki Final Act, according to US and Russian officials. The letter was not Russia’s response to the US proposal, but appears to be part of its effort to formulate one.

“NATO refers to the right of countries to choose freely, but you cannot enhance someone’s security at the expense of others,” Putin said Tuesday during his press conference.

“This is a subject we will not allow to be stifled. We will insist on a frank conversation and a frank explanation of why the West does not want to fulfill its obligations or it wants to selectively fulfill them on its own. favor.” Lavrov added in an appearance after his call with Blinken.

The United States has already made it clear that it believes Ukraine has the right to choose its own alliances and that this small democratic country poses no security threat to Russia.

As the United States and NATO await this official response from Russia, Blinken again urged Russia to defuse tensions by withdrawing troops, heavy weapons and equipment from Ukraine’s borders. But Lavrov gave no indication during the call that Russia would, senior State Department officials said.

“Not all the actions we see on the ground suggest an escalation. We actually continue to see more Russian troops arriving not only at the Russia-Ukraine border, but as you know, also in Belarus for these so-called exercises,” the second-highest-ranking State Department official said.

Russia and Belarus have said these forces are preparing for military exercises to improve their readiness. But the United States said on Monday it had evidence that more than 30,000 Russian troops would mass in Belarus in the coming days, citing declassified US intelligence – a worrying move that puts them less than two hours from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. .

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