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Russia maybe ‘not serious’ about diplomacy on Ukraine but ball in its court: Blinken

(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at the State Department on Wednesday, confirmed the U.S. had delivered a written response to Moscow security demands as Russia amassed troops on its borders with Ukraine.

“Today, Ambassador Sullivan delivered our written response in Moscow. All told, it sets out a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it,” Blinken said.

“The document we’ve delivered includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia’s actions that undermine security, a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised, and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground,” he continued.

“This is not a negotiating document,” Blinken said, adding that President Joe Biden was “involved from the get-go” and had signed off on it.

“The ball is their court,” he added, referring to the Russians.

Russia had said it would not continue talks until Moscow had the responses in hand, and Blinken announced after meeting in Geneva last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the U.S. would oblige, which some argued might be seen as a U.S. concession.

But Blinken denied that, saying the U.S. did not change its positions in the paper, but “reiterated what we said publicly for many weeks and, in a sense, for many, many years.”

That includes rejecting Russia’s key demands, laid out in its own draft treaties last month, that NATO bar Ukraine from joining the Western military alliance and that NATO pull back troops from its Eastern European member states, who were formerly Soviet states.

“There is no change. There will be no change,” he told reporters. “I can’t be more clear — NATO’s door is open, remains open, and that is our commitment.”

Blinken and Lavrov will speak in the coming days once Russia has reviewed the U.S. response, the top U.S. diplomat said. While there are fears that Russia is using the diplomatic exchange as pretext to attack Ukraine, saying diplomacy failed to address their concerns, Blinken said the U.S. would not be the one to end talks, even as it prepares sanctions and readies NATO deployments.

“You may be right, that Russia is not serious about this at all. But we have an obligation to test that proposition, to pursue the diplomatic path,” he said. “The point is we’re prepared either way.”

Blinken’s comments follow Biden saying Tuesday there could be some U.S. troop movements in the “nearer term” — and that he would consider personally sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine — a day after 8,500 American forces were put on “heightened alert” in the region.

But in Ukraine, leaders have offered a different assessment from that put forward by the White House that a full-scale Russian attack is imminent.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said they believe Russia’s forces are currently “insufficient” for a full-scale invasion and that right now the Kremlin is seeking to destabilize Ukraine with the threat of attack and other means, not yet actually launching one.

In a televised address to the nation Tuesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged people to stay calm about the threat of a Russian attack and said there was work in progress to bring about a meeting between him and the leaders of Russia, France and Germany.

“Protect your body from viruses, your brain from lies, your heart from panic,” Zelenskiy said.

The White House and State Department have defended the administration’s decisions and rhetoric, denying that drawing down the embassy, putting 8,500 U.S. troops on alert, and warning of an “imminent” threat have escalated the situation.

Asked on Tuesday about the criticism from Kyiv that the U.S. is giving into Russia’s playbook, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price denied the U.S. created a “panic.”

“We have been clear about our concerns. We have been clear about the depth of those concerns,” Price said. “Given what we’re seeing on Ukraine’s borders, what we’re seeing in what should be an independent sovereign country of Belarus, with the Russian military buildup there, what we’re seeing with preparations for potential hybrid operations — all of this is cause for concern, but certainly no one is calling for panic.”

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