Russian officials on Tuesday denied reports that Moscow had sent Washington a written response to a US proposal aimed at calming the Ukraine crisis, a day after the two countries exchanged sharp accusations at the UN Security Council and a series of high-level meetings in Moscow and Ukraine. Kiev was underway.
The Kremlin is seeking legally binding guarantees from the United States and NATO that Ukraine will never join the bloc, the deployment of NATO weapons near the Russian border will be halted and alliance forces will be withdrawn from Eastern Europe.
The demands, which have been rejected by NATO and the United States as non-parties, come amid fears of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, due to the massing of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders. Talks between Russia and the West have so far failed to make any progress.
Washington provided Moscow with a written response to the demands, and three Biden administration officials said on Monday that the Russian government had sent a written response to the US proposals. A US State Department official declined to provide details, saying it “would not be feasible to negotiate publicly” and that Washington would leave it to Russia to discuss the counter-proposal.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency on Tuesday that this was “not true.”
The agency also quoted an unnamed senior diplomat in the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent a message to his Western colleagues, including US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, about the “principle of indivisibility of security” – that the security of one nation should not be at the expense of others – but it was not a response to Washington’s proposals.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that there was “confusion” and that Russia’s response to the US proposals was still being prepared. What was relayed to Western officials, Peskov said, “were other considerations, on a somewhat different subject.”
On Monday, Russia accused the West of “fueling tensions” over Ukraine and said the United States had brought “pure Nazis” to power in Kiev as the UN Security Council held a stormy debate over Moscow’s reinforcement of forces near its southern neighbor.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield responded by saying that Russia’s growing military power along Ukraine’s borders has been the “largest mobilization” in Europe in decades, adding that there has been a rise in Russian cyberattacks and disinformation.
The harsh exchanges at the Security Council came after Moscow lost an attempt to derail the meeting and reversed the gap between the two nuclear powers. It was the first open session in which all the heroes of the Ukraine crisis spoke publicly, although the most powerful body of the United Nations took no action.
More high-level diplomacy is expected this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow on Tuesday and said in his opening remarks that the Kremlin’s security demands would be discussed. Orban, in turn, stressed that no European leader wants a war in the region.
Later in the day, Lavrov and Blinkin were expected to hold a phone call, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev.
Meanwhile, Zelensky signed a decree on Tuesday to expand the country’s army by 100,000 soldiers, bringing the total to 350,000 in the next three years, and raise army salaries.
Zelensky, who in recent days has sought to placate the nation following fears of an imminent invasion, said Tuesday that he signed “this decree is not out of war.”
“This decree is so that there will be peace soon and in the future,” the president said.
The decree ended conscription with effect from January 1, 2024, and outlined plans to employ 100,000 soldiers over the next three years.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Leader at the United Nations, Amer Madani and Matthew Lee in Washington, and Jurassic Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine.