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Russia: ‘Little Optimism’ On Easing Tensions After US Rejects Kremlin Demands

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By Ken Bredemeier

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Russia said Thursday there was “little ground for optimism” to ease tensions in Eastern Europe after the United States rejected its demand that Ukraine be permanently banned from NATO membership and that the West pull back its troop deployment and weaponry from countries bordering Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. response to its demands “contains no positive response,” but that some elements of it could lead to “the start of a serious talk on secondary issues.” The U.S. and its European allies have rejected the key Moscow demands as nonstarters.

The top Kremlin diplomat said officials will submit proposals to President Vladimir Putin. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Russian reaction would come soon, adding “there always are prospects for continuing a dialogue. It’s in the interests of both us and the Americans.”

The U.S. and its European allies, fearing an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, continue to protest Russia’s massing of more than 100,000 troops along its border with its one-time Soviet republic, although Moscow says it has no intention of attacking.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the document it handed Russia “includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia’s 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.”

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U.S. President Joe Biden, while ruling out sending U.S. troops to Ukraine, repeatedly has warned Russia the West will impose crippling economic sanctions against it if it crosses the border and attacks Ukraine.

Peskov said Putin and Biden will decide whether they need to talk again about the diplomatic standoff following two calls last month.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Kyiv government had seen the U.S. response to Russia before it was handed over to Moscow.

“No objections on the Ukrainian side,” Kuleba said. “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.”

Blinken agreed on Twitter, saying, “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”

While Russia and the U.S. and its allies trade demands, both sides have ramped up military preparations. Russia has launched military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic, and Russian fighter jets and paratroopers in Belarus.

NATO, the 30-nation Western military alliance, said it was boosting its presence in the Baltic Sea region, and the U.S. has ordered 8,500 troops to be on heightened alert for deployment to Europe as part of a NATO operation.

Kuleba said Ukraine is not planning any offensive actions and he expects diplomatic efforts to address the crisis along the Russia-Ukraine border to continue.

“We are committed to [a] diplomatic track and we are ready to engage with Russia at different levels in order to find [a] diplomatic solution to the conflict,” Kuleba said at a news conference. “However, if Russia decides to fight, we will fight back. This is our country, and we will defend it.”

Officials from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany held talks Wednesday in Paris and agreed to another round of talks in Berlin.

“Nothing has changed, this is the bad news,” Kuleba said. “The good news is that advisers agreed to meet in Berlin in two weeks, which means that Russia for the next two weeks is likely to remain on the diplomatic track.”

VOA

The VOA is the Voice of America

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