Thursday, October 6, 2022

Russia says no new talks on Ukraine until West responds to demands

Russia says no new talks on Ukraine until West responds to demands

Moscow, Russia (AFP) – Moscow on Tuesday rejected new talks on Ukraine unless the West responds to its demands, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to fly to Kyiv in a show of support amid fears of a Russian invasion.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on the border with Ukraine, with Kyiv and the West accusing Moscow of preparing a potential military attack on its pro-Western neighbour.

A week of talks in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna last week failed to ease tensions, with Russia insisting its demands for sweeping security guarantees -- including a permanent ban on Ukraine joining NATO -- be taken seriously.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that there would be no further negotiations until the West gives it proper answers.

"We are now awaiting responses to these proposals -- as we were promised -- in order to continue negotiations," he said at a joint press conference with visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

"Let's hope these talks will continue," Lavrov said.

Washington has outright rejected the demands, which also include limits on allied deployments in former Warsaw Pact allies like Poland and the ex-Soviet Baltic states that joined NATO after the Cold War.

The State Department announced that Blinken would fly to Ukraine and meet Wednesday with President Volodymyr Zelensky, to "reinforce the United States' commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Blinken will then head Thursday to Berlin for four-way talks with Britain, France and Germany on the Ukraine crisis, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Belarus military drills

The four countries will discuss "joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including allies' and partners' readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia," Price said in a statement.

Ukraine, the United States and the European Union have all raised deep concerns over the Russian troop build-up, despite repeated denials from Moscow that an invasion is planned.

Kyiv has been at war with pro-Moscow separatists in the east of the country since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine after demonstrations ousted a Kremlin-aligned leader.

Adding to the tensions, Russia and Ukraine's neighbour Belarus on Tuesday launched snap military exercises.

The Belarusian defence ministry said it was hosting the combat readiness drills because of the continuing "aggravation" of military tensions "including at the western and southern borders of the Republic of Belarus."

Ukraine borders Belarus to the south and NATO member Poland to the west.

Neither Moscow nor Minsk has disclosed the number of troops involved, but a video published by the Belarusian defence ministry showed columns of military vehicles including tanks being unloaded from trains blanketed in snow.

Baerbock came to Moscow fresh from meetings in Kyiv and said at the press conference with Lavrov that it was difficult for the West to believe Russia's claims it had nothing planned.

"Over the past few weeks, more than 100,000 Russian troops, equipment and tanks have been deployed near Ukraine for no reason. It's hard not to see that as a threat," she said.

Warning from Turkey

NATO member Turkey also warned Moscow against invading Ukraine on Tuesday, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying he intended to discuss rising tensions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I don't see Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a realistic option because it is not an ordinary country. Ukraine is a powerful country," Erdogan told reporters in Albania.

Turkey has supplied combat drones to Ukrainian forces, drawing fierce criticism from Moscow.

Russian negotiators met separately this month with delegations from the United States, NATO and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in meetings that failed to produce any concrete results.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced in parliament on Monday that Britain is sending weapons to Ukraine as part of a package that would help Kyiv secure its borders.

"Ukraine has every right to defend its borders, and this new package of aid further enhances its ability to do so," Wallace said.

The types of equipment being sent "are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia," he said, describing them as "light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday described the announcement of the shipments as "extremely dangerous" and "not conducive to reducing tensions".