The Biden administration and NATO told Russia on Wednesday there will be no US or NATO concessions on Moscows main demands to resolve the crisis over Ukraine.
In separate written responses delivered to the Russians, the US and NATO held firm to the alliances open-door policy for membership, rejected a demand to permanently ban Ukraine from joining, and said allied deployments of troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe are nonnegotiable.
“There is no change, there will be no change,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. Also not up for negotiation will be the US and European response to any Russian invasion of Ukraine, he said, repeating the mantra that any such incursion would be met with massive consequences and severe economic costs.
The responses were not unexpected and mirrored what senior US and NATO officials have been saying for weeks. Nonetheless, they and the eventual Russian reaction to them could determine whether Europe will again be plunged into war.
There was no immediate response from Russia but Russian officials have warned that Moscow would quickly take “retaliatory measures” if the US and its allies reject its demands.
Seeking possible off-ramps that would allow Russia to withdraw the estimated 100,000 troops it has deployed near Ukraines border without appearing to have lost a battle of wills, the US response did outline areas in which some of Russias concerns might be addressed, provided it de-escalates tensions with Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Blinken said Russia would not be surprised by the contents of the several page American document that US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered on Wednesday to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“All told it sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it, he said. “The document we have delivered includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russias actions that undermine security, a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised, and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground.” Blinken said he hoped to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the response in the coming days. But he stressed the decision about pursuing diplomacy or conflict rests with Russia and more specifically, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We will see how they respond,” he said. “But there is no doubt in my mind that if Russia were to approach this seriously and in a spirit of reciprocity with a determination to enhance collective security for all of us, there are very positive things in this document that could be pursued. We cannot make that decision for President Putin.” Shortly after Blinken spoke, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels that the alliance had sent a separate reply to Russia with an offer to improve communications, examine ways to avoid military incidents or accidents, and discuss arms control. But, like Blinken, he rejected any attempt to halt membership.
“We cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which the security of our alliance, and security in Europe and North America rest,” Stoltenberg said. “This is about respecting nations and their right to choose their own path.” “Russia should refrain from coercive force posturing, aggressive rhetoric and malign activities directed against allies and other nations. Russia should also withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova where they are deployed without these countries consent,” he said.
While flatly refusing to consider any changes to NATOs open-door policy, its relationship with non-ally Ukraine, or allied troop and military deployments in Eastern Europe, Blinken said the US is open to other ideas to ease Russias stated concerns.
The US proposals, echoed in the NATO document, include the potential for negotiations over offensive missile placements and military exercises in Eastern Europe as well as broad arms control agreements as long as Russia withdraws its troops from the Ukrainian border and agrees to halt inflammatory rhetoric designed to deepen divisions and discord among the allies and within Ukraine itself.
Moscow has demanded guarantees that NATO will never admit Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations as members and that the alliance will roll back troop deployments in former Soviet bloc nations. Some of these, like the membership pledge, are nonstarters for the US and its allies, creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in a war.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it has plans to attack Ukraine, but the US and NATO are worried about Russia massing its troops near Ukraine and conducting a series of sweeping military manoeuvres.
As part of the drills, motorised infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia practised firing live ammunition, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea performed bombing runs, dozens of warships sailed for training exercises in the Black Sea and the Arctic, and Russian fighter jets and paratroopers arrived in Belarus for joint war games.
Speaking to Russian lawmakers on Wednesday before the US and NATO responses were delivered, Lavrov said he and other top officials will advise Putin on the next steps.
“If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures,” Lavrov said.
But he indicated Russia would not wait forever. “We wont allow our proposals to be drowned in endless discussions,” he said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Federal staff and is auto-published from a syndicated feed.)