The written responses, issued separately by the Biden administration and NATO, offered President Vladimir Putin a choice: Enter negotiations with Washington and its allies, including Ukraine, or proceed with an invasion and face what the administration says will be crushing economic sanctions.
US intelligence officials say Putin still has not made a decision — and may not for several weeks.
As described by US and European officials, the two written responses formalise positions that the United States and NATO have asserted since Putin issued his demands weeks ago while massing Russian troops along Ukraine’s eastern border and more recently to the north, in Belarus.
Putin has sought “guarantees” that Ukraine will never join NATO, and he wants NATO allies to pull all troops and nuclear weapons from former Soviet republics and nations that once belonged to the Warsaw Pact. He said in December that his demands must be addressed “right away, right now.”
The documents delivered on Wednesday rejected a few of the demands as “nonstarters” and listed several Western concerns about Russia’s behaviour that would have to be part of “reciprocal agreements.” And those, by necessity, would take time.
In a brief speech and then in response to reporters’ questions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the responses from the United States and NATO were drafted together and approved by President Joe Biden after weeks of consultations with allies and Ukraine. The US response, Blinken said, “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it.”
He said he expected to speak with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in the coming days when Russian officials are “ready to discuss next steps.” Senior American diplomats say at least one more round of talks will probably take place with the Russians before Putin decides between diplomacy and an invasion, which US officials say could kill thousands of people.
Blinken said the United States would not publicly release its written response “because we think that diplomacy has the best chance to succeed if we provide space for confidential talks,” adding that the US “hopes and expects” the Russians will agree.
Whether they will abide is unclear: Lavrov said after a meeting with Blinken in Geneva last week that he believed the US document should be made public, according to Russia’s Tass news agency. And on Wednesday, he said that his government would describe the US and NATO responses to the Russian people, even if the details remained confidential.
According to officials familiar with the documents, the responses begin with broad principles, including that NATO will not rescind its “open door” policy that any state that wants to join the alliance can seek to do so. Biden, however, noted at a news conference last week that Ukraine, which has struggled with democratic governance and corruption, would not qualify for many years.
The documents also make clear that Russia will not have veto power over the presence of nuclear weapons, troops or conventional arms in NATO countries. But they open the door to talks on reciprocal restraints on short- and medium-range nuclear weapons, including a revival of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. And they say the United States and its allies are willing to talk about mutual rules to limit the size and locations of military exercises; such limits would assure that they are far from borders and could not be mistaken for a force gathering for an invasion.
White House officials estimated that high-level US officials had conducted more than 180 meetings with their European counterparts — a statistic meant to signal that they had made sure that the response was developed in full partnership with America’s allies. Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that his country had reviewed and approved the responses dealing with its future.
Russia had insisted for weeks that the United States provide written responses to its demands, which were issued in late December, before it would decide on its next course of action. Russia asserts that it does not intend to invade Ukraine, but US officials say the Kremlin has drawn up plans for a ground assault that could come at any time. They caution that Putin could also attack Ukraine — where he has backed a separatist war since 2014 — in a more limited fashion.
The Kremlin was silent on Wednesday evening, but Russian lawmakers had a largely dismissive initial response. Konstantin I Kosachev, deputy chairman of Russia’s upper house of Parliament, said there were “things to discuss with the United States” even though he had not seen the written response.
But others argued that it was time for the Kremlin to take the unspecified “military-technical” measures that Putin had warned of if the West did not accede to Russia’s demands.
“We took the path of negotiation, we didn’t go into hiding, we didn’t hide anything,” said Vladimir Dzhabarov, another lawmaker in the upper house, according to the Interfax news agency. “Now our hands are untied, and we can act as we please.”
Speaking at the State Department, Blinken said the document suggested “reciprocal transparency measures regarding force posture in Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and manoeuvres in Europe.”
The United States has a small number of military trainers in Ukraine and supplies Kyiv with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual military aid, but it keeps no combat troops in the country.
Blinken acknowledged that the US document did not represent a new negotiating position. “It reiterates publicly what we’ve said for many weeks,” he said.
Russia has also demanded that the United States remove nuclear weapons from Europe and withdraw troops and weapons from former Soviet bloc countries that joined the alliance after 1997. The United States has deemed those demands “nonstarters.”
As diplomacy inches ahead, the United States is continuing to take steps anticipating a worst-case scenario in Ukraine, including violence in the capital of Kyiv.
Eight additional Marine security guards were sent to the US Embassy two weeks ago, bringing the total number there to about 40, according to a senior Marine official. On Sunday, the State Department ordered family members of diplomats at the embassy to leave the country.
To Putin, Russia’s demands distill years of his grievances about what he sees as Western overreach in Eastern Europe — a region that Moscow considers part of its rightful sphere of influence. He also argues that a greater Western military presence in Eastern Europe represents an existential threat to Russia.
Speaking in Brussels, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, said NATO had sent its response to the Russian Embassy in Brussels, which also addressed Moscow’s demand for a separate Russia-NATO treaty.
Asked late Wednesday how long it would take Russia to study the Western response, Alexander Grushko, the deputy foreign minister, replied: “We’ll read it. We’ll study it.”
“It took our partners almost a month and a half to study our proposal,” he said, according to Interfax.
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