Weeks of high-level diplomatic talks between Russia and the West aimed at deterring further escalation in tensions over Ukraine appear to fail as the United States has yet to concede to Russia’s demands.
On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry revealed it had received a long-awaited written response from Washington to its security demands delivered by US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan.
"The head of the American diplomatic mission handed over a written response of the US administration to the draft bilateral treaty on security guarantees," the ministry said in a statement following Sullivan's meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko.
The written document is said to address Moscow’s concerns over the expansion of NATO's presence along the borders, which were raised in a draft treaty on security guarantees Russia had proposed to the United States in mid-December. The proposal envisaged that NATO denies membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance's military deployments in Eastern Europe — which the US and NATO reportedly rejected.
In a briefing with reporters at the State Department on Wednesday, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington hadn't made any concessions to the main Russian demands over Ukraine and NATO.
Blinken went on further to say that the letter to the Russian government establishes a “serious diplomatic path” to resolve the confrontation over Ukraine. Although the secretary did not detail what was in the document, he made it clear that Kyiv can choose its own allies, rebuffing Moscow’s demand for a pledge that Ukraine will not join the NATO alliance.
“We make clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances,” Blinken said after the letter was delivered in Moscow.
He also said he would speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the coming days for its response to the US stance.
Earlier on Wednesday, Lavrov told the State Duma that Russia won’t publish a US response on security guarantees if asked, but will disclose the general meaning of the answers.
For weeks, Russia has been seeking legally binding security guarantees excluding any further NATO expansion eastward and deployment of its weapon systems in close vicinity to Russian territory amid rising tensions over Ukraine. As the world's second strongest military power, Russia claimed that any deployment of NATO troops to Ukraine threatens stability near Russia's borders and may trigger a strong response from Moscow to ensure its security.
Washington’s response came at the time of the heightened tensions between NATO and Russia when the western military alliance is accusing Kremlin over what it called to be plotting an imminent invasion of its neighbor Ukraine. The allegations were made after tens of thousands of Russian troops were stationed along the Ukrainian border — the second such move this year. Russia has repeatedly claimed that it is free to move its troops within its borders and has no plans to attack Ukraine. However, the US has threatened sanctions on an unprecedented scale should Russia invade the neighboring country.