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Breaking silence on Ukraine crisis, Putin says US ignoring Russia’s security demands

Lavrov, Blinken hold ‘fairly candid’ phone call on Ukraine tensions, as Russian FM claims ‘the West doesn’t want to fulfill its obligations’ in ensuring Russia’s security

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to the media during a joint news conference with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 1, 2022. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to the media during a joint news conference with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 1, 2022. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the US and its allies have ignored Russia’s top security demands.

In his first comments on the standoff with the West over Ukraine in more than a month, Putin said the Kremlin is still studying the US and NATO’s response to the Russian security demands they received last week.

But he said it was clear that the West has ignored the Russian demands that NATO will not expand to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations, refrain from deploying offensive weapons near Russia and roll back NATO deployments to Eastern Europe.

Putin discussed the tensions with his visiting Hungarian counterpart as top US and Russian diplomats also held talks on the issue.

The Kremlin is seeking legally binding guarantees from the US and NATO that Ukraine will never join the bloc, deployment of NATO weapons near Russian borders will be halted and the alliance’s forces will be rolled back from Eastern Europe.

The demands, rejected by NATO and the US as nonstarters, come amid fears that Russia might invade Ukraine, fueled by the buildup of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders. Talks between Russia and the West have so far failed to yield any progress.

A female Ukrainian soldier adjusts her helmet at a frontline position in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

All eyes were on Putin as he hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the Kremlin, telling the Hungarian leader he would brief him about the talks with the West on Russia’s security demands. Orban, who has forged close ties with Putin, putting NATO member Hungary in a unique position, stressed that no European leader wants a war in the region. Putin has not spoken about the issue since late December.

Orban, a right-wing nationalist, has avoided taking a definitive stance on the buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders, and some of his opponents at home criticized his trip to Moscow as a betrayal of Hungary’s interests and Western alliances.

Washington has provided Moscow with a written response to Russia’s demands, and, on Monday, three Biden administration officials said the Russian government sent a written response to the US proposals.

A Ukrainian serviceman, seen through a camouflage mesh, stands at a frontline position in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described that statement as a misunderstanding, saying he actually sent letters to the US and other Western counterparts to seek their explanations about the past obligations signed by all members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a top trans-Atlantic security grouping.

Russia has argued that NATO’s expansion eastward has hurt Russia’s security, violating the principle of “indivisibility of security” endorsed by the OSCE in 1999 and 2010.

Lavrov charged Tuesday that the US and its allies have ignored the principle that the security of one nation should not be strengthened at the expense of others while insisting on every nation’s right to choose alliances, noting that he again raised the issue in a phone call Tuesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Old T-64 tanks covered by snow stand at the depot site at the Tank Repair Plant in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Monday, January 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

“We will insist on a frank conversation about why the West doesn’t want to fulfill its obligations,” Lavrov said in televised remarks.

Blinken, meanwhile, emphasized “the US willingness, bilaterally and together with Allies and partners, to continue a substantive exchange with Russia on mutual security concerns.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price noted that Blinken also “further reiterated the US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the right of all countries to determine their own foreign policy and alliances.”

Blinken also “urged immediate Russian de-escalation and the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Ukraine’s borders,” Price said. He reaffirmed that “further invasion of Ukraine would be met with swift and severe consequences and urged Russia to pursue a diplomatic path.”

Senior State Department officials described the call as professional and “fairly candid,” noting that Lavrov restated Russia’s insistence that it has no plans to invade Ukraine and Blinken replied that if Putin didn’t really intend to invade Ukraine, Russia should withdraw its troops.

The top diplomats agreed that the next step would be for Russia to submit its response to the US and to speak again. Lavrov said Russia’s foreign and defense ministries are still working on its response, which will be sent to Putin for review before it is transmitted to Washington.

A female Ukrainian soldier adjusts her helmet at a frontline position in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Shortly after speaking to Lavrov, Blinken convened a conference call with the secretary general of NATO, the EU foreign policy chief and the chairman-in-office of the OSCE as part of efforts to ensure that the allies are engaged in any further contacts with Russia.

On Monday, Russia accused the West of “whipping up tensions” over Ukraine and said the US had brought “pure Nazis” to power in Kyiv as the UN Security Council held a stormy debate on Moscow’s troop buildup near its southern neighbor.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield shot back that Russia’s growing military force along Ukraine’s borders was “the largest mobilization” in Europe in decades, adding that there has been a spike in cyberattacks and Russian disinformation.

High-level diplomacy continued Tuesday, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arriving in Kyiv for scheduled talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visited Kyiv in a show of support, promising to deliver more weapons to Ukraine including portable air defense systems, drones, mortars and ammunition.
He noted that Russia’s neighbors feel like they are living “next to a volcano.”

Morawiecki criticized Germany for considering the certification of the newly-built Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that would carry Russian natural gas to German consumers bypassing transit countries Ukraine and Poland.

“You can’t express solidarity with Ukraine while also working to certify the Nord Stream 2,” the Polish prime minister said. “By allowing the pipeline’s launch, Berlin would hand Putin a gun he could then use to blackmail the entire of Europe.”

Zelensky said Ukraine would forge a new trilateral political alliance with Britain and Poland, hailing it as a reflection of strong international support for Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president signed a decree on Tuesday expanding the country’s army by 100,000 troops, bringing the total number to 350,000 in the next three years, and raising army wages.

Zelensky, who in recent days sought to calm the nation in the wake of fears of an imminent invasion, said Tuesday that he signed “this decree not because of a war.”

“This decree is so that there is peace soon and further down the line,” the president said.

The decree ended conscription starting from January 1, 2024, and outlined plans to hire 100,000 troops over the next three years.

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