‘Little ground for optimism’: Kremlin says U.S. document doesn’t meet Russian security demands

Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
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Written responses from the United States and NATO addressing Russia’s security demands have left “little ground for optimism,” the Kremlin said on Thursday, suggesting the West’s latest diplomatic effort was unlikely to deescalate tensions along Ukraine’s border.

“We can’t say that they took our concerns into account or showed any readiness to take our concerns into consideration,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to the Russian government-owned news agency TASS.

Still, Peskov said that “there always are prospects for continuing a dialogue” about the ongoing security situation because “it’s in the interests of both us and the Americans,” according to additional remarks reported by the Associated Press.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also said that although the U.S. written response could result in “the start of a serious talk on secondary issues,” the document “contains no positive response on the main issue.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has received the written response, Lavrov added, and Russian officials will now present their proposals to him.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that he would not make public the details of the written response, but he insisted that Washington had not reversed its positions on Moscow’s major requests: that NATO pull back its presence in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, and that Ukraine and Georgia be permanently barred from joining the military alliance.

“Without going into the specifics of the document, I can tell you that it reiterates what we’ve said publicly for many weeks and, in a sense, for many years,” Blinken said at a news conference. “That we will uphold the principle of NATO’s ‘open door,’ and that’s … a commitment that we’re bound to.”

Blinken also said the written response was “fully coordinated” with Ukraine and European allies — a point Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reinforced on Thursday.

“We had seen the written response of the U.S. before it was handed over to Russia,” Kuleba tweeted. “No objections on the Ukrainian side. Important that the U.S. remains in close contact with Ukraine before and after all contacts with Russia. No decisions on Ukraine without Ukraine. Golden rule.”

Following a meeting with Lavrov in Geneva last Friday, Blinken pledged to present Russia with a written record of Washington’s concerns about Moscow’s behavior and proposals to end the security situation sometime this week. U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered the document to Moscow on Wednesday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, responding to the Russian officials’ remarks about the document, said at a news briefing on Thursday that “they have conveyed they’re reviewing what was sent to them, and that’s a part of the diplomatic process.”

“We don’t know if the Russians are playing games on diplomacy,” Psaki said. “We hope not. … We are certainly pursuing diplomacy with a level of seriousness and an intention in leaving that door open and pursuing that path, should they be open to it.”

Psaki also told reporters that U.S. officials still believed a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent.

“We have said since last week that we have seen preparations and buildup at the border and that an invasion could come at any time. Our assessment has not changed since that point,” she said.

Elaborating on the written response, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN on Thursday that the United States “laid out some ideas … that we think would be effective, would be constructive and would address our mutual concerns” with Russia.

But Price acknowledged that U.S. officials “have not seen tangible signs just yet that the Russians are in the process of deescalation.” He also repeated the United States’ latest threat that it will halt the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline should Moscow mount an invasion of Ukraine.

Pressed on whether the United States is coordinating with Germany on potentially shutting down the project, Price said he was “not going to get into the specifics,” but that U.S. officials “will work with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 does not move forward.”

Berlin has long advocated for the completion of the pipeline — which would transport inexpensive natural gas from Russia under the Baltic Sea — and among the European allies, Germany has at times appeared reluctant to respond to Moscow’s continued aggression against Ukraine.

As U.S. diplomats work to galvanize support for Ukraine across Europe and among the broader international community, the White House announced on Thursday that President Joe Biden will welcome German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Washington on Feb. 7.

As part of their conversation, the leaders “will discuss their shared commitment to both ongoing diplomacy and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” Psaki said in a statement.

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