Fears of a strike by Russia on its neighbour grew after the US and NATO rejected the Kremlin’s security demands for Ukraine last week. Rather of sending armoured armadas across the Ukrainian border, as the US and its allies had feared, Moscow flooded Western capitals with diplomatic letters about an international accord that the Kremlin views as a compelling rationale for its position in the stalemate.
Despite saying a month ago that he sought a speedy response to Russian requests and warning that Moscow would not accept “idle dialogue,” President Vladimir Putin signalled on Wednesday that he was open to fresh talks with Washington and NATO.
With Russia’s military build-up around Ukraine’s borders, the @CHUkraineForum asked residents in Kharkiv:
▪️What do you think Putin wants?
▪️How should Ukraine respond?
▪️Is the West helping Ukraine enough?
Watch in full:https://t.co/xg0uBjegof
— Chatham House (@ChathamHouse) February 7, 2022
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Russia insists it has no plans to invade its neighbour, but it wants NATO to deny Ukraine and other former Soviet republics membership and promise not to put weapons there. NATO forces in Eastern Europe should also be reduced.
“On the one hand, Putin fired rhetorical barbs at the West and emphasised perceived slights; on the other hand, he left open the possibility of talking in greater depth about at least some of the issues where the West has been willing to engage,” said Jeff Rathke, a former US diplomat and president of Johns Hopkins University’s American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.
Putin has yet to respond to the Western suggestions, but his diplomats have cautioned that if the West continues to ignore Moscow’s fundamental objectives, progress on those matters would be impossible.
“Russia will retain a harsh stance while hinting that it is open to discussions,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, who leads the Council for Foreign and Defense Policies in Moscow and closely monitors Kremlin thinking. “Such intricate agreements aren’t negotiated over a cup of tea in a pleasant setting; therefore, all techniques of persuasion are employed, even the use of force.”
The Russian president said Tuesday, in his first public words on the dispute since late December, that although the West opposes Russia’s fundamental demands, diplomatic attempts should continue. “I hope that we will finally find a solution,” Putin added, “but we recognise that it will not be simple.”
Belarus’ autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko has already volunteered to host Russian nuclear weapons after being sanctioned by the West for his crackdown on the opposition.
“Belarus will play a key role in the game,” Lukyanov said.
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