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US’ written response to Russia ‘isn’t about concession,’ Blinken says

Secretary Antony J. Blinken in a virtual U.S. Embassy London meet and greet on May 4, 2021. (State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha)
January 27, 2022

The United States and NATO delivered coordinated written responses to Russia’s demands on Wednesday, laying out areas for potential cooperation in the latest bid to defuse tensions around Ukraine.

The American document, which the government is not releasing publicly, “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters. It suggests areas where Washington and Moscow could find “common ground,” Blinken said, including restarting arms control talks, negotiating a sequel to the New START arms treaty, and increasing transparency about the American military presence in eastern Europe.

However, it rejects Russian officials’ core demand that Ukraine not be admitted to NATO and their claim that NATO’s eastward expansion jeopardizes their security.

“This isn’t about concessions,” Blinken said. “I can’t be more clear: NATO’s door is open, remains open, and that is our commitment.”

Blinken acknowledged that Russia might not be acting in good faith, after a reporter asked whether Russia is buying more time to prepare its invasion of Ukraine by demanding answers in writing that it has several times received verbally.

“But we have an obligation to test that proposition, to pursue the diplomatic path, to leave no diplomatic stone unturned,” he said.

The United States is preparing to counter military action by Russia at the same time it’s pushing diplomatically to avoid it. About 300 Javelin anti-tank missiles arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said on Twitter. American and Danish fighter jets are heading to Estonia and Lithuania, respectively, to reinforce NATO‘s eastern flank.

Also on Wednesday, NATO delivered to Russia a similar written document drafted in coordination with the United States, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The alliance is seeking to reopen diplomatic ties with Moscow—including reopening a Russian mission to NATO in Brussels—as well as to increase transparency about military exercises in Europe, threats in space, and arms control.

“I have, as chairman of the NATO-Russia Council, invited all 30 allies and Russia to a series of meetings where we are ready to sit down and to have substantive discussions on a wide range of issues,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “At the end of the day, this is about whether there is the will to engage in good faith.”

Both Blinken and Stoltenberg said that the responses were drafted in close consultation with European allies. At the same time, officials from France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine met Wednesday in Paris to try to hash out a diplomatic solution without the involvement of the alliance or the United States.

At those talks, officials from the four countries recommitted to a ceasefire agreement originally agreed to in July 2020, according to a communique released by the French Embassy. They also agreed to meet again in two weeks in Berlin. Despite the diplomatic steps taken on Wednesday, two Democratic senators who visited Kyiv this month said they are “skeptical” that diplomacy can prevent Russia from further invading Ukraine. Connecticut Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal held a town hall with Ukrainian constituents on Wednesday, where they said the only way to prevent a conflict is to make sure Putin thinks the costs of an invasion outweigh the benefits.

In addition to deterring Putin, being clear about what consequences Russia will face for an invasion, and then following through if Moscow takes military action, will send an important signal to China too, Murphy said.

“The message would be clear to countries like China if Russia gets away with this without devastating consequences,” he said. “Putin is going to make up his mind one way or the other as to whether to invade, but it’s up to us the price that he pays for it. China will be watching what kind of blow is dealt to the Russian army and to the Russian economy.”


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