Moscow considers proposal as Putin mulls options if West refuses guarantees

MOSCOW-Russia has received a NATO proposal to begin talks on Moscow’s concerns on Jan 12 and is considering it, the Russian Foreign Ministry was quoted by TASS news agency as saying, amid a standoff between Moscow and the West over Kiev’s NATO ambitions.

Russia, which has unnerved the West with a troop buildup near Ukraine, last week unveiled a list of security proposals it wants to negotiate, including a promise that NATO would give up any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine.

“We have already received this offer, and we are considering it,” TASS quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow wants military officials to be involved in talks with NATO.

The United States and Ukraine said Russia may be preparing for an invasion. Russia denies that and said it is Ukraine’s growing relationship with NATO that has caused the standoff to escalate. Russia compared it to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the world came to the brink of a nuclear war.

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia wants to avoid conflict, but needed an “immediate “response from the US and its allies to its demands for security guarantees. Moscow said it expects talks with US officials to start in Geneva next month.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has said some of Russia’s security proposals are obviously unacceptable, but that Washington will respond with more concrete ideas on the format of any talks.

In an interview on CBS’ Face The Nation television show, Vice-President Kamala Harris said Washington has been in direct discussion with Moscow about the issue and reiterated the US’ commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The US, the European Union and the G7 have all warned Moscow that it will face “massive consequences “including tough economic sanctions in the event of any new Russian aggression.

The Kremlin’s demands contain elements, such as an effective Russian veto on future NATO membership for Ukraine, which the West has already ruled out.

Others would imply the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe and the withdrawal of multinational NATO battalions from Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that were once in the Soviet Union.

In a call with reporters on Friday, a Biden administration official said Washington has taken note of the concerns that Moscow has raised and was ready to engage with it as soon as early January, but a specific date and location were yet to be set.

‘Red line’

On Sunday, Putin said he would ponder a slew of options if the West fails to meet his push for security guarantees.

Asked to specify what Moscow’s response could be in comments aired by Russian state television on Sunday, he said “it could be diverse”, adding that “it will depend on what proposals our military experts submit to me”.

Putin also said Russia submitted the demands hoping for a constructive answer from the West.

“We didn’t do it just to see it blocked, … but for the purpose of reaching a negotiated diplomatic result that would be fixed in legally binding documents,” Putin said.

He reaffirmed that NATO membership for Ukraine or the deployment of alliance weapons there is a red line for Moscow.

“We have nowhere to retreat,” he said, adding that NATO could deploy missiles in Ukraine that would take just four or five minutes to reach Moscow. “They have pushed us to a line that we can’t cross. They have taken it to the point where we simply must tell them, ‘Stop!'”

He also voiced concern that the West could try to drag out the security talks and use them as a cover to pursue a military buildup near Russia.

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