Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday the United States and NATO have not addressed Moscow’s concerns in its standoff with Ukraine.
The Kremlin said Putin made the remarks in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, contending Western diplomatic responses did not consider Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion, stopping the deployment of alliance weapons near Russia’s border and rolling back its forces from Eastern Europe.
U.S. and NATO officials have rejected those demands but have outlined areas where dialogue is possible.
The Kremlin said Putin told Macron he would further study the responses this week before deciding on next steps.
"The key question was ignored: how the United States and its allies intend to follow the principle of security integrity ... that no one should strengthen their security at the expense of another country's security," the Kremlin said.
A French presidency official said that during Friday’s call with Macron, Putin called for de-escalation, comments echoed by Russia’s top diplomat.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia does not want war with Ukraine but that it will protect its security interests against the West if necessary.
Lavrov’s comments came in an interview Friday with Russian radio stations one day after U.S. President Joe Biden warned of a “distinct possibility” that Russia could invade Ukraine in coming days.
“If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don't want wars,” Lavrov said. “But we also won't allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored."
U.S. President Joe Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a White House statement Thursday that Russia could invade Ukraine next month.
“President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February,” Emily Horne, the White House National Security Council spokesperson said. “He has said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months.”
Ukraine’s president sought to play down those fears, warning the talk of war was having a detrimental effect on his country’s economy.
“We don’t need this panic,” Zelenskiy told a news conference in Kyiv on Friday.
In talks between Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Geneva last week, the two committed to put their countries’ concerns and responses to them in writing for further discussion, along with NATO’s.
Blinken said Thursday the document the U.S. 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.”
The U.S. has called for a meeting Monday of the United Nations Security Council on Ukraine.
"More than 100,000 Russian troops are deployed on the Ukrainian border and Russia is engaging in other destabilizing acts aimed at Ukraine, posing a clear threat to international peace and security and the U.N. Charter," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday in a statement. “This is not a moment to wait and see. The Council’s full attention is needed now, and we look forward to direct and purposeful discussion on Monday.”
Russia is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council and therefore has veto power over any resolution.
Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s border has reached the point that Putin now has a full range of military options, including some short of a full-scale invasion, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday.
“While we don't believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has the capability,” Austin said at a Pentagon news conference.
Austin said Putin has the capability to seize Ukranian cities and “significant territories” in the country with some of the 100,000 troops at the border. Austin also warned Russia could use “coercive acts or provocative political acts," such as recognizing breakaway territories inside Ukraine.
The U.S. and its European allies, fearing an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, continue to protest Russia’s massing of troops along the borders of the onetime Soviet republic, although Moscow says it has no intention of attacking.
Biden, while ruling out sending U.S. troops to Ukraine, repeatedly has warned Russia that the West will impose crippling economic sanctions against it if it crosses the border and attacks 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.
On Friday, Ukraine’s military held artillery and anti-aircraft drills in the country’s southern Kherson region near the border with Russian-annexed Crimea, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance was ready to bolster its troop presence in Eastern Europe.
Stoltenberg, speaking online from Brussels at a Washington think tank event, also said NATO was closely monitoring Russia’s movements of thousands of troops, aircraft and S-400 anti-aircraft systems into Belarus.
“From the NATO side we are ready to engage in political dialogue,” Stoltenberg declared. “But we're also ready to respond if Russia chooses an armed conflict confrontation." He added that NATO is “not planning to deploy combat-ready troops to Ukraine.”
NATO said earlier this week that it was boosting its presence in the Baltic Sea region, and the U.S. has put 8,500 troops on heightened alert for deployment to Europe as part of a NATO operation.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.