The United States and Russia will likely hold bilateral talks to discuss Moscow’s security proposals next month as the Kremlin ramped up is rhetoric by again warning it was prepared to take military measures if the West launched “unfriendly” actions with regard to Ukraine.
“We will decide on a date together with Russia, and we believe that that will take place in January,” Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried said in a call with media on December 21.
Donfried said that NATO will be holding a meeting on December 21 to discuss inviting Russia for talks on its proposals. Meanwhile, she said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was working out how it wants to engage Russia.
“My sense is that we will be seeing movement in these channels in the month of January,” she said.
Russia on December 17 published sweeping new security demands it is seeking from the West that would essentially give Moscow a sphere of influence in neighboring countries while rolling back many of the advances NATO has made in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union since the 1990s.
The demands were laid out in the form of two draft agreements with the United States and NATO.
Donfried said that some of the demands were unacceptable and that Russia knows this, but added others merited discussion. She did not elaborate.
The Russian security demands come as the Kremlin amasses about 100,000 combat-ready troops near the border with Ukraine in what the United States has said could be a prelude to an invasion as early as next month.
Analysts have said the military buildup could be aimed at strengthening Russia’s position at the bargaining table with the United States and NATO.
Russia is seeking a commitment from the West that Ukraine will not join NATO, calling it a “red line.” Most analysts say that Ukraine is at least a decade away from joining the security alliance.
Donfried called on Russia to pull back its troops, saying talks can only succeed in an atmosphere of de-escalation.
Earlier in the day, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the alliance’s support for Ukraine, saying it backed Kyiv’s “right to choose its own path.”
Addressing concerns among the military alliance’s eastern contingent, Donfried said that NATO will consult with all 30 members as it engages in talks with Russia.
Speaking the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hoped for constructive talks with Washington and Brussels on Moscow’s security guarantees and that there were signs the West was ready to work on the issue.
“Armed conflicts and bloodshed are absolutely not something we would choose, we do not want such a scenario,” Putin said.
He said Russia’s proposals were no ultimatum, but it had nowhere to retreat over Ukraine and in a meeting with Defense Ministry officials, he took a much sharper tone, saying that if the West continued its “obviously aggressive stance,” Russia would take “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures”.
Russia “will react toughly to unfriendly steps,” he said, adding that he wanted to underscore that “we have every right to do so.”
Donfried said that any Russian aggression against Ukraine would be met with powerful sanctions by the West.
“We have been clear that we would respond with strong economic measures that we have not considered in the past, and that would inflict significant costs on the Russian economy and financial system,” she said.