Russian President Vladimir Putin
The comments were his first on the standoff in more than a month and suggested a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine may not be imminent and that at least one more round of diplomacy is likely.
Yet the two sides remain unyielding in their main positions, and there was little apparent hope for concessions. Russia is expected to respond soon to a US proposal for negotiations on lesser Russian demands after which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak.
Lavrov and Blinken spoke on Tuesday and reiterated positions put forward by Putin and President Joe Biden. The White House said Biden and Putin could also speak once the US receives Russia’s response.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
In remarks to reporters at a Moscow news conference with the visiting leader of NATO ally Hungary, Putin said the Kremlin is still studying the US and NATO’s response to the Russian security demands received last week. But he said it was clear that the West has ignored Russian demands that NATO not expand to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations, refrain from deploying offensive weapons near Russia and roll back its deployments to Eastern Europe.
Putin argued that it's possible to negotiate an end to the standoff if the interests of all parties, including Russia's security concerns, are taken into account. "I hope that we will eventually find a solution, although we realize that it's not going to be easy,” Putin said.
Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops along the border of Ukraine, fueling fears of an invasion. It has denied any intention to attack.
The Kremlin is still studying the US and NATO’s response to the Russian security demands received last week.
Washington and its allies have rejected Moscow's key demands. They emphasize that Ukraine, like any other nation, has the right to choose alliances, although it is not a NATO member now and is unlikely to join any time soon.
Putin said the Western allies’ refusal to meet Russia's demands violates their obligations on the integrity of security for all nations. He warned that a Ukrainian accession to NATO could lead to a situation where Ukraine launches military action to reclaim control over Russian-annexed Crimea or areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in the country's east.
"Imagine that Ukraine becomes a NATO member and launches those military operations,” Putin said. "Should we fight NATO then? Has anyone thought about it?”
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 following the ouster of the country's Moscow-friendly president and later threw its weight behind rebels in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, triggering a conflict that has killed over 14,000 people.
More than 94,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine's borders, Ukrainian authorities have said, citing intelligence reports suggesting Moscow may be planning a large-scale military offensive for the end of January.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged his compatriots on Tuesday to stay calm as Russia amasses troops on the border. The rare sanctions threat from the US comes as NATO places forces on standby and reinforces eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets in response to Russia's troop build-up.
For the second day on Tuesday, there were signs of hope that Europe might avoid war following weeks of escalating East-West tensions as Moscow massed around 150,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine and held massive military drills.
A number of areas in the country, on Thursday, witnessed rainfall of varying intensity, as a result of the country being affected by an extension of a surface low pressure system from the east.
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