Russia claims 'rational elements' of US peace proposals pave way for talks

Moscow describes America's ideas as 'at least something' but gives Nato the cold shoulder

Russian BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and a truck during drills held by the armed forces on Thursday. Reuters
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Russia is planning to take up further peace talks with the US after describing American proposals to ease tension over Ukraine as better than those put forward by Nato.

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said he expects to speak to his US counterpart Antony Blinken in the next two weeks, as diplomats try to prevent Russian troop movements near Ukraine from exploding into war.

Mr Lavrov said Russia did not want war in Ukraine but would not let its interests be ignored, as it pushes proposals to limit Nato expansion into the former Soviet sphere of influence.

Although this central demand is rejected by Washington and its allies, Mr Lavrov said there were “rational elements” in a written US response which he said was “at least something”.

The US response was delivered by John Sullivan, Washington's ambassador to Moscow, to the Russian government. He said on Friday that the diplomacy remained the preferred way forward, as the US awaits Russia's response.

"But if it chooses a different path, the United States and our allies and partners are prepared to impose severe consequences," Mr Sullivan told a media briefing.

He said "diplomacy and dialogue" was the preferable course for everyone. "But we will also continue to prepare for the alternative with defence and deterrence," the US ambassador added.

But in a cold shoulder to Nato, Mr Lavrov said separate submissions by Nato were highly ideological.

“I felt a little embarrassed for those who wrote this document,” he said in remarks broadcast by state media outlet RT.

“If it’s up to Russia, there’s not going to be a war. We want no wars. But trampling our interests, ignoring our interests, is something we cannot allow either.”

Unlike Russia, the US and Nato did not make their proposals public. But diplomats from both have said they were open to discussions with Russia on arms control and military transparency.

This could include limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft.

However, western powers reject any scheme for Russia to veto membership of Nato and say this is an issue for potential candidate countries such as Ukraine and Georgia.

Moscow insists it is not preparing for an invasion of Ukraine but Mr Sullivan said such comments were at odds with the reality on the ground.

"The massive build up – over 100,000 troops on the border – is extraordinary. It can't be explained as an ordinary military exercise or exercises.

"I understand what the Russian government has said publicly that it has no intention to invade Ukraine but the facts on the ground tell a much different story," Mr Sullivan said.

A series of talks this month between the US, Russia, Nato and other European governments has yet to bring an end to the stand-off in Ukraine.

The White House said on Thursday that Russia’s military preparations on the border with Ukraine, where it has amassed about 100,000 troops, mean an invasion could come at any time.

The US has 8,500 troops on alert to respond to a potential crisis in the region and has shipped weapons to Ukraine, while Britain said this week that it would look to contribute to any Nato deployment.

Germany, where memories of the brutal Nazi war with Russia weigh heavily on the public mind, has held out against delivering weapons to Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said a move to supply 5,000 helmets to Ukraine, ridiculed by the opposition, had come at Kiev’s request.

She said Germany was looking at building protective bunkers in southern Ukraine but raised concern that a military build-up could close the door to political dialogue.

“When you’re talking, you’re not shooting,” she told the German Parliament in Berlin.

Western powers have threatened Russia with a heavy economic price if it invades Ukraine. Moscow has been under sanctions since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The EU’s senior trade official, Valdis Dombrovskis, said the bloc could hit the energy sector with restrictive measures as part of what he called a “substantial package of sanctions”.

“Member countries are ready to tolerate a possible negative effect on income because peace is in danger in Europe,” Mr Dombrovskis told Italian media.

Updated: January 28, 2022, 12:46 PM