By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and YURAS KARMANAU – Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s top diplomat on Monday advised President Vladimir Putin to continue discussing Moscow’s security demands with the West, a signal from the Kremlin that it intends to continue diplomatic efforts amid US warnings of an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow wants guarantees from the West that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to become members, and that the alliance will halt weapons deployments in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Europe from the East, demands categorically rejected by the West.
Speaking at a meeting with Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow should hold more talks with the United States and its allies despite their refusal to consider key Russian demands.
The talks “cannot go on forever, but I would suggest continuing and expanding them at this stage,” Lavrov said, noting that Washington has offered to hold a dialogue on the limits of missile deployments in Europe, the restrictions on military exercises and other confidence-building measures. -construction measures.
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Asked by Putin whether it made sense to continue diplomatic efforts, Lavrov replied that the possibilities for talks “are far from exhausted”, and he offered to continue negotiations.
Putin noted that the West might try to drag Russia into “endless talks” without conclusive results and wondered if there was still a chance to reach an agreement on Moscow’s main demands.
“There is always a chance,” Lavrov replied, adding that his ministry would not allow the United States and its allies to block key Russian demands.
Moscow denies plans to invade Ukraine, but has massed more than 130,000 troops near its borders and, according to the United States, has amassed enough firepower to launch an attack on short notice.
The meeting came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Ukraine and plans to continue to Moscow for talks with Putin in a last-ditch diplomatic effort.
“We are experiencing a very, very serious threat to peace in Europe,” Scholz tweeted from Kyiv, adding that Germany wanted to see “signals of de-escalation” from Moscow.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Europe was “on the edge of a precipice”, adding that “there is still time for President Putin to take a step back”.
With growing concerns over the impending war, the German military said the first of some 350 additional troops it was sending to bolster NATO forces in Lithuania was dispatched on Monday. Lithuania moved the families of diplomats and some non-essential diplomatic workers out of Ukraine after the United States and others withdrew most of their staff from embassies in Kyiv.
Residents of the Ukrainian capital received letters from the mayor calling on them to “defend your city” and signs appeared in the elevators of apartment buildings indicating the nearest bomb shelter. The mayor says that Kiev has about 4,500 such sites, including underground parking lots, metro stations and basements.
Dr. Tamara Ugrich said she stocked up on cereals and canned goods and packed an emergency suitcase.
“I don’t believe in war, but on TV the tension is rising every day and it’s getting harder and harder to keep calm. The more we are told not to panic, the more nervous people get,” she said.
But others took the advice of Ukrainian leaders not to panic. Street music flooded Maidan’s central square on Sunday evening and crowds stopped to dance. “I feel calm. You should always be ready for anything, and then you will have nothing to fear,” said Alona Buznitskaya, a model.
Some airlines canceled flights to Kyiv and troops unloaded new arms shipments from NATO members.
The United States and its NATO allies have repeatedly warned that Russia will pay a high price for any invasion, but they have sometimes struggled to present a united front. Scholz’s government, in particular, has been criticized for refusing to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine or specify what sanctions it would support against Russia, raising questions about Berlin’s determination to stand up to Moscow.
So far, NATO warnings seem to have had little effect: Russia has only reinforced troops and weapons in the region and launched massive exercises in its ally Belarus, which is also neighbor of Ukraine. The West fears the exercises, which will continue until Sunday, could be used by Moscow as cover for an invasion from the north.
Russia has repeatedly dismissed Ukrainian and Western concerns about military buildup, saying it has the right to deploy forces wherever needed on its territory.
As hopes for a diplomatic exit route fade and there are no high expectations from Scholz’s trip, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, raised the possibility that Ukraine suspends its candidacy for NATO – an objective enshrined in its constitution – if it avoids war with Russia.
“We could – especially be threatened like this, blackmailed and pressured into doing it,” Prystaiko told BBC Radio 5.
On Monday, however, Prystaiko seemed to back down from this, saying that “to avoid war, we are ready to make many concessions…but that has nothing to do with NATO, which is enshrined in the constitution.”
Asked about Prystaiko’s comment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would welcome such a move, but noted the swift repudiation of it by Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
Ukrainian parliament speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk also stressed that there was no question of revising the constitutional provision referring to NATO membership, and some lawmakers called for Prystaiko’s removal.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Sunday that Kiev had requested a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe within the next 48 hours to discuss Russian deployments near the country’s borders. .
Poland, which currently chairs the OSCE, said the meeting is scheduled for Tuesday – but is unlikely to defuse tensions.
Some members of the OSCE mission to eastern Ukraine who are observing an uneasy ceasefire in the region have withdrawn amid fears of war, and Russian-backed separatists have alleged their departure could facilitate provocations.
With the region on edge, the Russian Defense Ministry summoned the US Embassy’s military attache on Saturday to protest what it said was a US submarine in Russian waters near the Kuril Islands in The pacific. Russia said the submarine initially ignored departure orders but left after the navy used unspecified “appropriate means”. The United States has denied that his ship ever entered Russian waters.
Asked by lawmakers on Monday whether the military could hit foreign warships that enter Russian waters, Deputy Chief of the Russian Army General Staff Stanislav Gadzhimagomedov said he was ready to do so, but added that such decisions are only made at the highest level.
During Sunday’s call, US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to continue to promote both deterrence and diplomacy. Zelenskyy’s office also quoted him as suggesting that a quick visit from Biden would help defuse the situation — a possibility that was not mentioned in the White House call summary.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader was ousted from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed more than 14,000 people.
A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany stopped large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.
Karmanau reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed.
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