The United States and NATO have each sent written replies to Russia over its security demands, saying they would make no concessions when it comes to Ukraine’s possible future in the Western alliance.
Russia has demanded a guarantee that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the 30-country North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Moscow, which published its positions last month, has also called for NATO to withdraw troops and weapons from Eastern Europe.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “there is no change, there will be no change” on core principles such as Ukraine’s sovereign right to seek membership in whatever alliance it chooses. However, he said the documents submitted to the Russian Foreign Ministry “set out a serious diplomatic path should Russia choose it.” Mr. Blinken suggested the two sides could work toward arms-control agreements as a way of defusing the rising tension between Russia and the West.
“It remains up to Russia to decide how to respond. We are ready either way,” he told reporters on Wednesday. He said a decision had been made not to publish the documents delivered to Moscow.
Russia continues to build up an invasion-sized force on three sides of Ukraine. Russian officials say the troops are participating in military exercises and that there are no plans to attack Ukraine.
There was no immediate response from the Kremlin to the documents. The American reply was delivered by John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance delivered its own written response to Russia “in parallel with the United States.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned, “Moscow will take necessary response measures” unless it received what it deemed to be a “constructive” reply from the West.
Russia has continued to amass forces along its 2,000-kilometre-long border with Ukraine – as well as in allied Belarus and the occupied Crimean Peninsula – throughout a flurry of high-stakes diplomacy over the past two weeks. On Tuesday, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told The Globe and Mail that there are now an estimated 127,000 Russian troops gathered near the country’s frontiers.
The aide said the Ukrainian government believes a full-scale Russian invasion is less likely than some sort of campaign to destabilize the country from within. The White House, however, has repeatedly warned a Russian assault on Ukraine could be imminent.
Canada this week joined the U.S., Britain, Germany and Australia in ordering children and spouses of Ukraine-based diplomatic staff to leave the country. Canada’s embassy in Kyiv remains open, although a government travel advisory said Canadians in Ukraine “should evaluate if your presence is essential.”
Mr. Blinken said all U.S. citizens in Ukraine “should strongly consider leaving” the country on commercial flights while the option was still available. He said the U.S. government “may not be in a position” to assist citizens in Ukraine after a conflict begins.
Mr. Stoltenberg said the NATO alliance was “ready to sit down and listen to Russian concerns.” But he said “it’s no secret” the two sides remained far apart on Moscow’s main demands regarding Ukraine. Tensions, he said, were increasing as Russia continued to deploy troops and equipment into Belarus, which borders NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
“There is no de-escalation,” Mr. Stoltenberg told an online press conference. “We see more troops not only in and around Ukraine, but also now in Belarus where Russia is in the process of deploying thousands of troops, hundreds of aircraft, S-400 air defence systems and a lot of other very advanced capabilities.”
A separate diplomatic push continued in Paris on Wednesday, where Russian, Ukrainian, German and French officials met under what’s known as the Normandy Format for the first time since 2019.
The talks, which were aimed at ending the eight-year-old conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine – where fighting between a Moscow-backed militia and the Ukrainian army has killed more than 14,000 people – ended without any apparent breakthroughs. However, Andriy Yermak, the lead Ukrainian negotiator, said all four parties had agreed to meet again in Berlin in two weeks.
Germany has come under pressure over its close economic ties to Moscow – including the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which would allow Russia to supply gas to Europe without paying transit fees to Ukraine – as well as its refusal to provide military support to Kyiv.
Berlin, which has a policy of not selling lethal weapons to conflict zones, announced on Wednesday that it was sending 5,000 helmets to the Ukrainian military.
The offer was dismissed as a joke by Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko. “The behaviour of the German government leaves me speechless. The Defence Ministry apparently hasn’t realized that we are confronted with perfectly equipped Russian forces that can start another invasion of Ukraine at any time,” he told Germany’s Bild newspaper. “What kind of support will Germany send next? Pillows?”
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