Russia’s foreign minister proposed ‘continuing and intensifying’ diplomatic efforts
By Anton Troianovski, Marc Santora, Christopher F. Schuetze and Andrew E. Kramer
Even with Russian warships massing off Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and the United States warning that Russian ground forces are poised to strike Ukraine from multiple directions, Russia’s top diplomat said Monday that the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis was “far from exhausted.”
Another hint of averting war came from Ukraine’s president, who said Monday that his country might have to abandon the possibility of joining NATO — a central Russian demand in a confrontation that threatens the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II.
Speaking in what appeared to be a carefully scripted televised meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he supported continuing negotiations with the West on the “security guarantees” Russia has been demanding of the United States and NATO.
“I believe that our possibilities are far from exhausted,” Lavrov said, referring to Russia’s negotiations with the West. “I would propose continuing and intensifying them.”
Putin responded simply: “Good.”
The televised meeting was a signal that Russia might continue using the threat of an invasion of Ukraine to try to squeeze diplomatic concessions from the West, rather than resorting to immediate military action.
At the same time, the comments by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, saying that perhaps the notion of NATO membership “is for us like a dream” suggested — however vaguely — that his country might make the kind of concessions it has staunchly resisted so far.
NATO stated in 2008 that it intended for Ukraine to join the alliance eventually, though that remains a remote prospect. Moscow has demanded that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO and has also called for a rollback of NATO forces from across Eastern Europe.
The U.S. and NATO formally rejected those demands, but they proposed several areas — including nuclear arms control and limits on military exercises — where they were willing to negotiate.
But the Kremlin has yet to respond, leaving a vast chasm that diplomacy has so far failed to bridge.
Putin asked Lavrov whether he had prepared a draft response to the proposals that the United States and NATO submitted last month. Lavrov said he had indeed prepared a 10-page response, offering no details. A spokesman for Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said after the televised meeting that the Kremlin would announce when Russia submitted its response, and that Putin would decide whether to make it public.
Putin told his diplomats in November that it was good that “tensions” were high with the West and that it was “important for them to remain in this state for as long as possible.”
He also held a meeting with his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, who described Russia’s wide-ranging military exercises, and said that some were now ending or would end soon.
Western officials have expressed fears that the window for a diplomatic solution may be closing after a phone call between President Joe Biden and Putin over the weekend resulted in “no fundamental change in the dynamic that has unfolded now for several weeks,” according to the White House.
As the Biden administration warns that a Russian invasion could be imminent, publicly available satellite imagery has documented a huge Russian military buildup around Ukraine, including naval vessels armed with missiles, and infantry, tank and airborne regiments capable of striking from multiple directions.
The United States has “good sources of intelligence” that indicate “that things are sort of building now to some kind of crescendo opportunity for Mr. Putin,” John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Sunday.
While Russia has repeatedly said it has no plans to launch an attack, it has continued to add to the arsenal threatening its neighbor. Last week, when asked about the possibility of invasion, Putin refused to rule out the possibility.
Even as the Ukrainian government has sought to maintain calm, the country’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that Moscow needed to explain its actions and “fulfill its commitment to military transparency in order to deescalate tensions and enhance security for all.”