MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin said Thursday that there was “little ground for optimism” in resolving the crisis over Ukraine after the U.S. rejected Russia’s main demands, but that dialogue was still possible.
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, as the United States and its NATO allies expressed concern that a buildup of about 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine signaled that Moscow planned to invade its ex-Soviet neighbor. Russia denies having any such designs — and has laid out a series of demands it says will improve security in Europe.
But as expected, the U.S. and the Western alliance firmly rejected any concessions on Moscow's main points Wednesday, refusing to permanently ban Ukraine from joining NATO and saying allied deployments of troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe are nonnegotiable.
The U.S. did outline areas in which some of Russia’s concerns might be addressed, possibly offering a path to de-escalation. But, as it has done repeatedly for the past several weeks, Washington also warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it invades Ukraine. In addition to penalties targeting Russian people and key economic sectors, several senior U.S. officials said Thursday with certainty that Germany would not allow a newly constructed gas pipeline to begin operations in the event of an incursion.
All eyes are now on President Vladimir Putin, who will decide how Russia will respond amid fears that Europe could again be plunged into war.
In the meantime, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday to reiterate American and allied support, including recent deliveries of U.S. military aid.
“Had a long phone conversation with POTUS,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “Discussed recent diplomatic efforts on de-escalation and agreed on joint actions for the future. Thanked President Joe Biden for the ongoing military assistance. Possibilities for financial support to Ukraine were also discussed.”
The White House said in a statement that Biden told Zelenskyy he was “exploring additional macroeconomic support to help Ukraine’s economy" as it comes under pressure as a result of Russia's military buildup.
Meanwhile, the United States announced that the U.N. Security Council will hold an open meeting Monday on what U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Russia’s “threatening behavior.” She said the deployment of more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine's border and other destabilizing acts pose “a clear threat to international peace and security and the U.N. Charter.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier that the response from the U.S. — and a similar one from NATO — left “little ground for optimism.” But he added that “there always are prospects for continuing a dialogue, it’s in the interests of both us and the Americans.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was circumspect when asked whether the Biden administration saw a sliver of hope in that the Russians said they would keep communications open even as they said that they lacked optimism.
“We don’t know if the Russians are playing games on diplomacy. We hope not,” Psaki said.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. response contained some elements that could lead to “the start of a serious talk on secondary issues," but emphasized that “the document contains no positive response on the main issue.” Those are Moscow's demands that NATO not expand and that the alliance refrain from deploying weapons that might threaten Russia.
Lavrov said top officials will submit proposals to Putin. Peskov said the Russian reaction would come soon.
The evasive official comments reflect the fact that it is Putin who will single-handedly determine Russia's next moves. He has warned of unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West refuses to heed the demands.