Russia keeps door open to talks as U.S. rejects key security demands


  • World
  • Thursday, 27 Jan 2022

FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends an annual end-of-year news conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia said on Thursday it was clear the United States was 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 NATO submitted a written response on Wednesday to demands 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 U.S. and NATO statements describing Russia's main demands as unacceptable did not leave much room for optimism.

"Based on what our (U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

But, 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.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser told Reuters that Kyiv wants to borrow some $5 billion from international organisations and in bilateral aid as borderline "hysteria" over the threat of a Russian attack was limiting its access to capital markets.

DIPLOMATIC WINDOW

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will speak by phone later on Thursday with U.S. 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 U.S. 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 it was 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. In comments published on his ministry's website, he 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.

NATO REDEPLOYMENTS

TASS news agency quoted a senior Russian foreign ministry official, Vladimir Ermakov, as saying a nuclear missile crisis between Moscow and Washington was unavoidable without measures to ensure restraint and predictability.

He said Moscow believed Washington was preparing to deploy short and intermediate range missiles to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Biden has said he will not send U.S. 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 on Thursday, and six U.S. F-15 jets landed in nearby Estonia on Wednesday as NATO reinforced its eastern flank.

(Additional reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard in Copenhagen and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams in Kyiv and Dmitry Antonov, Maxim Rodionov, Vladimir Soldatkin and Alexander Marrow in Moscow, Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Timothy Heritage, Editing by Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)

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