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'We don't want wars': Russia softens tone on Ukraine, weighs US answers

  • >>Vladimir Soldatkin and Alexander Marrow, Reuters
    Published: 2022-01-28 19:29:48 BdST

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Service members of the 28th Separate Mechanised Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces take part in coastal defence drills in the Odessa region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released Jan 28, 2022. Ukrainian Defence Ministry/ REUTERS

Russia on Friday sent its strongest signal so far that it is willing to engage with US security proposals and reiterated that it does not want war over Ukraine.

"If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don't want wars. But we also won't allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian radio stations in an interview.

Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border as it presses demands for a redrawing of post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe.

The United States and its allies have warned President Vladimir Putin that Russia will face swift and tough economic sanctions if he attacks Ukraine.

Lavrov said the West was ignoring Russia's interests but there was at least "something" in written responses submitted by the United States and NATO on Wednesday to Russia's proposals.

Lavrov said he expected to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken again in the next couple of weeks. Their last meeting, in Geneva on Jan 21, produced no breakthrough but both sides agreed to keep talking.

Lavrov said, without giving details, that the US counter-proposals were better than NATO's. Russia was studying them and Putin would decide how to respond.

The comments were among the most conciliatory that Moscow has made on the Ukraine crisis, which has escalated into one of the tensest East-West standoffs since the Cold War ended three decades ago.

CONFIDENCE MEASURES

While the US and NATO responses have not been made public, both have stated they are willing to engage with Moscow on a series of topics, including arms control.

The US ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, told reporters that Washington had raised the possibility of "reciprocal transparency measures... including on offencive weapons systems in Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and manoeuvers in Europe."

He said the size of Russia's build-up near Ukraine would allow an invasion with little warning, and urged it to pull back its forces.

"It's the equivalent of if you and I were having a discussion or a negotiation. If I put a gun on the table and say that I come in peace, that's threatening," Sullivan said.

Russia has dismissed calls to withdraw, saying it can deploy troops as it sees fit on its own territory.

The head of Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency told Reuters that Russia was prepared to attack Ukraine but added: "I believe that the decision to attack has not yet been made".

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia said his country had absolutely no interest in a war and that conflict would break out only if Belarus or Russia were directly attacked.

The Kremlin said Putin would spend a "lot of time" discussing European security issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping when he visits Beijing next week for the opening of the Winter Olympics.

Putin also plans a meeting with German business people, following talks with Italian executives on Wednesday at which he underlined the importance of energy ties between Russia and Italy.

Italy's government had urged companies not to take part in that call, at a moment when Western governments are trying to build unity over possible sanctions.

No date has been set for the German meeting, which could also be controversial, especially as Ukraine has expressed frustration over Berlin's refusal to provide it with weapons to defend itself and what some countries sees as its ambivalence over possible sanctions against Russia.