US responds to Russian security demands as tensions in Ukraine rise

  • US offers diplomacy in response to Russian demands
  • “The ball is in their court,” Blinken says of the Kremlin
  • Russia keeps up the pressure with drills near Ukraine
  • The quadripartite on eastern Ukraine ends in Paris

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW, Jan 26 (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday it had charted a diplomatic course to meet hardline Russian demands in Eastern Europe as Moscow held security talks with Western countries and intensified its military reinforcement near Ukraine with new exercises.

In a written response to Russia’s requests delivered personally by its ambassador in Moscow, the United States reiterated its commitment to maintaining NATO’s “open door” policy while offering a “reasoned and pragmatic assessment” of the concerns of the Kremlin, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. .

Russia has asked NATO to withdraw its troops and weapons from Eastern Europe and bar its neighbor Ukraine, a former Soviet state, from joining. Washington and its NATO allies reject this position but say they are ready to discuss other issues such as arms control and confidence-building measures.

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“Putting things in writing is (…) a good way to make sure that we are as precise as possible, and that the Russians understand our positions, our ideas, as clearly as possible. At the moment, the document is with them and the ball is there”. in their backyard,” Blinken told reporters.

Whether President Vladimir Putin is ready to accept Washington and his allies’ agenda will determine the next phase of the crisis, in which Moscow has massed around 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine while denying its intent to invade.

NATO says it is putting forces on standby and bolstering Eastern Europe with more ships and warplanes, while the US, Britain and others are supplying arms to help Ukraine defend itself against the much larger Russian military. Read more

Asked how much time Russia would need to study NATO’s response, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told the Interfax news agency: “We will read it. Study it. The partners have studied our project for nearly a month and a half”.

DIALOGUE

In Paris, diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany held more than eight hours of talks on ending a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, amid the crisis over wide between Moscow and Kiev which threatens to become a full-scale war.

The so-called ‘Normandy’ talks were a good signal from Russia and a step towards defusing wider tensions, although major differences remain with further talks scheduled in Berlin in two weeks, a French official says .

West Russian differences were on full display on Tuesday, with US President Joe Biden saying he would consider personally imposing sanctions on Putin if he invaded Ukraine, as part of a bid by Washington to convince Moscow that any further action against Ukraine would entail enormous costs.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said personal sanctions against Putin would be “politically destructive”, adding that top Russian leaders were legally prohibited from holding assets, property and bank accounts abroad.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks on Russia and Ukraine during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, U.S. January 26, 2022. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS

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Putin’s personal wealth is a hot topic in Russia. According to his latest official reveal, he earned just under 10 million rubles ($126,175) in 2020.

Peskov has previously said imposing sanctions on Putin would amount to severing diplomatic ties.

MILITARY MANEUVERS, ENERGY PRECAUTIONS

Russia held new military drills on land and in the Black Sea on Wednesday and moved more paratroopers and fighter jets to Belarus, northern Ukraine, for what it describes as joint drills next month. .

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow had not yet mustered enough forces for a full-scale offensive, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t later. Blinken said Americans in Ukraine should consider leaving.

A day after the United States delivered Javelin anti-tank missiles, launchers and other equipment to Ukraine, Germany was criticized for saying it would supply Kiev with 5,000 military helmets while stopping before supplying arms. Read more

Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko told the Bild newspaper that the German helmets were a joke. “What kind of support will Germany send next?” He asked. “Pillows?”

The row highlights the complicated task the United States faces in trying to strike a deal with European allies, which have strong trade relations with Russia and are heavily dependent on it for energy, on a set severe sanctions in the event of an attack on Moscow.

Italy’s top business leaders, including bank UniCredit (CRDI.MI), held a videoconference with Putin on Wednesday despite a call from their government not to participate. Ukraine was not discussed, the Italian organizer said.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany “will not move forward” if Russia invades Ukraine, although it will not did not say whether Germany had taken the same position. read more Washington fears Nord Stream 2 will increase Europe’s dependence on Russia for gas.

U.S. officials say they are in talks with major energy-producing countries and companies around the world about a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine.

Asked about reports that the industry had little or no capacity to provide needed supplies, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the United States faces logistical challenges. , in particular with regard to the transport of natural gas. Read more

“It’s part of our discussions with many companies and countries,” Psaki said. “But again, these conversations are ongoing and we have no intention of failing.”

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Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Reuters offices; written by Rami Ayyub and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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