Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted he does not want conflict with Ukraine or Nato, but demanded an immediate response from the West to Moscow’s security guarantees to calm tension in Eastern Europe.
He reiterated Russia’s demand that Nato must not expand further eastward, while leaving the door open to dialogue if the US and its allies are willing to engage.
Last week, Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that Nato deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
It comes amid heightened tension on the Russia-Ukraine border and fears in some western capitals that a massive Russian troop build-up could pave the way for an invasion.
Speaking at his annual press conference, Mr Putin said there had generally been a “positive response” from the US, with Russian and American representatives set to meet for negotiations in Geneva next January.
Responding to Mr Putin, a senior US official said on Thursday that Washington is ready for talks in early January but that any progress would follow de-escalation steps by Russia.
“We have said both publicly and to the Russian government that we are prepared [for dialogue] in early January,” the US official said in a call with reporters.
There has been no determination of where the talks will take place, said a White House spokeswoman.
“We've also told Russia that it's clear to us that substantive progress in the talks can only be made in environments of de-escalation. We welcomed what was a small step just in the last couple of days.”
Both Russia and Ukraine recommitted to a July 2020 ceasefire last week.
“Our concern is with actions, not just words. We will continue to monitor events on and around the border very closely,” the US official said.
But Mr Putin hit out at Nato’s expansion, and said the military alliance “must give us guarantees, and immediately — now,” in response to the Russia’s security demands.
“We just directly posed the question that there should be no further Nato movement to the east. The ball is in their court, they should answer us with something,” he said.
He rejected criticism of the build-up of Russian troops on its border with Ukraine, and said Moscow was merely ensuring its own security.
“Do we put our missiles close to US borders?” Mr Putin asked. “No! It’s the US which has come to our house with its missiles. They’re on our doorstep already.”
Mr Putin also accused the West of trying to make Ukraine “anti-Russia, constantly beefed up with modern weapons and brainwashing the population”.
Officials from Nato member states have thrown their support behind Kiev and threatened Moscow with sanctions if it invades Ukraine.
Germany and France called on both the Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to respect the restoration of a full ceasefire, their foreign ministries said in a joint statement on Thursday.
“We urge the sides to respect the ceasefire and to continue discussions on further steps in the humanitarian field, e.g. the opening of crossing points and the exchange of detainees, along with the rest of the conclusions of the 2019 Paris Summit,” the ministries said.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Thursday repeated her warning to Russia that any incursion into Ukraine would be a costly mistake, but welcomed Moscow's willingness to enter talks.
“Any Russian incursion would be a massive strategic mistake and would be met with strength, including co-ordinated sanctions with our allies to impose a severe cost on Russia's interests and economy,” she said in a statement.
“The only way out of the current situation for Russia is through dialogue and I welcome the fact that Russia has signalled it is willing to enter talks in January.”
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on Thursday with Ukraine's Head of Presidential Administration Andriy Yermak. They discussed their shared concerns and common approach to Russia's military build-up.
Mr Sullivan welcomed the OSCE announcement regarding the “strong determination” of Ukrainian government forces and Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine to fully adhere to the July 2020 ceasefire. He underscored the administration’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.