Kremlin ready for more talks with West amid Ukraine tensions

At a session with Putin, Sergey Lavrov argues that Moscow should hold more talks with the US and its allies



Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. — AP
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. — AP

By AP

Published: Mon 14 Feb 2022, 9:37 PM

The Kremlin signalled on Monday it is ready to keep talking with the West about security grievances that led to the current Ukraine crisis, offering hope that Russia might not invade its beleaguered neighbour within days as the US and Europe increasingly fear.

Questions remain about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions, however. And countries around Europe are evacuating diplomats and on alert for possible imminent war amid the worst East-West tensions since the Cold War.

On a last-ditch diplomatic trip, Germany’s chancellor said there are “no sensible reasons” for the buildup of more than 130,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders to the north, south and east, and he urged more dialogue. Britain’s prime minister said Europe is “on the edge of a precipice” — but added, “there is still time for President Putin to step back”.

Despite warnings from Washington, London and elsewhere that Russian troops could move on Ukraine at a moment’s notice, Monday’s meeting between Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested otherwise.

At the session with Putin, Lavrov argued that Moscow should hold more talks with the US and its allies despite their refusal to consider Russia’s main security demands.

Moscow, which denies it has any plans to invade Ukraine, wants Western guarantees that NATO won’t allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. It also wants the alliance to halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe, demands flatly rejected by the West.

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The talks “can’t go on indefinitely, but I would suggest to continue and expand them at this stage,” Lavrov said, noting that Washington has offered to conduct dialogue on limits for missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures. Lavrov said possibilities for talks “are far from being exhausted”.

His comments, at an appearance orchestrated for TV cameras, seemed designed to send a message to the world about Putin’s own position: Namely, that hopes for a diplomatic solution aren’t yet dead.

Putin noted the West could try to draw Russia into “endless talks” without conclusive results and questioned whether there is still a chance to reach agreement on Moscow’s key demands. Lavrov replied that his ministry wouldn’t allow the US and its allies to stonewall Russia’s main requests.

In a phone call on Sunday, US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to keep pushing both deterrence and diplomacy. Zelenskyy’s office also quoted him suggesting a quick Biden visit would help — a possibility that was not mentioned in the White House summary of the call. Such a visit would be unlikely as the US is now operating with a skeleton diplomatic staff in Kyiv.

During what could be a crucial week for Europe’s security, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Ukraine before heading to Moscow for talks with Putin on a high-stakes diplomatic foray.

After meeting Zelenskyy, Scholz urged Russia to show signs of de-escalation, and reiterated unspecified threats to Russia’s financial standing if it invades.

“There are no sensible reasons for such a military deployment,” Scholz said. “No one should doubt the determination and preparedness of the EU, NATO, Germany and the United States” in case of a military offensive.

Zelenskyy said: “It is in Ukraine that the future of the European security architecture — of which our state is a part — is being decided today.”

Kyiv residents received letters from the mayor urging them “to defend your city,” and signs appeared in apartment buildings indicating the nearest bomb shelter. The mayor says the capital has about 4,500 such sites, including underground parking garages, subway stations and basements.

Dr Tamara Ugrich said she stocked up on grains and canned food, and prepared an emergency suitcase.

“I don’t believe in war, but on TV the tension is growing every day and it’s getting harder and harder to keep calm. The more we are told not to panic, the more nervous people become,” she said.

Others heeded the advice of Ukraine’s leaders not to panic. Street music flooded central Maidan Square on Sunday night and crowds danced. “I feel calm. You should always be ready for everything, and then you will have nothing to be afraid of,” said Alona Buznitskaya, a model.

Some airlines cancelled flights to Kyiv and troops unloaded shipments of weapons from NATO members.


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