Putin met Lavrov in the Kremlin Monday in what appeared to be a scripted moment on Russia’s formal response to the rejection of its key security demands by Washington and NATO – including its demand that the alliance bar Ukraine from ever joining.
Putin opposed “the endless, in our opinion, and very dangerous expansion of NATO to the East,” but supported the Foreign Ministry’s conclusion on a need to keep talking, RIA Novosti reported, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Reporting to Putin formally on Russia’s bid to end NATO expansion, Lavrov said the rejection of Russia’s key security demands by Washington and NATO did not satisfy Moscow. But he added that there was room for further dialogue.
He said that NATO wanted to determine Europe’s security architecture without reference to Russia but that talks with the United States and NATO “now must be developed and intensified.”
Lavrov added: “I have already said more than once that we warn against endless conversations on issues that need to be resolved today, but still, probably, being the head of the Foreign Ministry, I must say that there is always a chance.”
Peskov, in a call with journalists, insisted on Moscow’s right to move its troops anywhere within Russia’s borders, saying there were “equally large” movements of Kyiv’s forces in Ukraine which he said led to “a serious deterioration of the situation.”
As massive Russian military drills continued with Belarus, in the Black Sea, in southern Russia and other parts of the country, Putin also met Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who said that some drills were coming to an end and others would be completed “in the near future.”
Earlier, the Kremlin continued to press Ukraine to drop its NATO membership plan after Ukrainian officials explicitly ruled it out.
And German Chancellor Olaf Scholz began a two-day trip to Kyiv and Moscow to try to de-escalate the NATO-Russia crisis over Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry ruled out any compromise Monday on its aim of joining NATO and called for security guarantees to deter a Russian invasion, amid warnings from U.S. officials that Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine at any time.
Peskov said that if Ukraine withdrew its bid for membership in the alliance, this could allay some of Russia’s security concerns. Moscow insists that Ukraine’s joining the alliance is a “red line” that would threaten its security — while Kyiv argues that it poses no threat to Russia and that it is seeking membership to guarantee its security.
Russia has issued sweeping demands to the United States and NATO, including an end to NATO’s open door policy and the removal of NATO forces and equipment from former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries.
Putin is planning a meeting later this week with his closest military ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the Kremlin said Monday.
Peskov said that if Ukraine confirmed and formalized a commitment to abandon its idea to join NATO, this would “certainly be a step that would substantially promote the formulation of a more meaningful response to Russia’s concerns.”
Russia renewed its call for Ukraine to end its NATO membership bid as Ukrainian officials clarified comments by the nation’s ambassador to Britain, Vadym Prystaiko. He caused confusion Sunday when he told the BBC that Ukraine may be willing to “contemplate” withdrawing its membership bid to avoid a catastrophic war — while saying he did not believe Ukraine would actually do so.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, ahead of trips to Kyiv and Moscow, warned that any aggressive action by Russia would bring swift sanctions.
“We are witnessing a very, very serious threat to peace in Europe,” Scholz tweeted after he landed in Kyiv. “Further military aggression would have very serious consequences for Russia,” he added, saying that Germany was in absolute agreement with NATO allies on this.
The visit follows a stuttering start to Germany’s diplomatic push to help avert war in Ukraine, with the new chancellor criticized for his low profile in the crisis.
He said that during his talks in Kyiv, it was “important for me to express our continued solidarity and support to Ukraine.” While Berlin has declined to provide lethal weapons, it has been considering nonlethal assistance. Germany has said it can better support Ukraine with economic aid.
Kyiv officials have criticized Germany’s stance on weapons deliveries and its reluctance to explicitly bar the major German-Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 from starting operations if Russia attacks.
Scholz will fly to Moscow on Tuesday. Weekend talks between President Biden and President Vladimir Putin of Russia — and separate discussions between the Russian leader and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron — again failed to yield a diplomatic breakthrough.
Russia has continued to rebuff Western pressure to reduce its massive military pressure on Ukraine’s borders, with U.S. officials warning that Moscow has the pieces in place to launch a major attack at any time.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday that “the key issue for our country is the issue of security guarantees.” It added: “Undoubtedly, the best such guarantee would be the immediate admission of Ukraine to [NATO.] But threats to Ukraine exist here and now, so finding an answer to the questions of guarantees becomes a fundamental urgent task.”
Speaking on BBC television Monday, Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to Britain, said Kyiv was willing to make concessions to avoid a catastrophic war.
“We are not a member of NATO right now, and to avoid war we are ready for many concessions, and that’s what we are doing in our conversations with Russians,” he said. But he also said his comment had nothing to do with Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, which is written into the nation’s constitution.
In an earlier BBC interview Sunday, he said Ukraine was flexible and willing to contemplate ending its bid to join NATO to avoid war. He noted, however, that Kyiv is unlikely to do so, “not because we are stupid and stubborn” but because Putin would likely make more demands if Ukraine makes that concession.
Although Kyiv continues to press for membership, Ukraine is unlikely to join any time soon. President Biden stated last June that Kyiv has a distance to go to meet NATO standards, including making progress in fighting corruption. In 2008, a NATO summit agreed that Ukraine and Georgia would join, but neither country was given a Membership Action Plan, or road map setting out necessary steps to do so.
Vice President Harris will hold a series of in-person meetings with U.S. allies and partners at the Munich Security Conference later this week, reaffirming Washington’s commitment to security in the region. The conference was launched by Western nations at the height of the Cold War to address military conflicts. The Kremlin has said it won’t send any officials to the conference.
Biden spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, reiterating the United States’ pledge that it would respond “swiftly and decisively” to any attack, the White House said, through sanctions and other measures designed to inflict severe economic penalties on Russia.
According to a readout of the call from Ukrainian officials, Zelensky invited Biden to visit Ukraine “in the coming days,” a gesture that Zelensky said would send “a powerful signal” and contribute to de-escalation. The White House has not announced any visit. The last U.S. president to visit Kyiv was George W. Bush in 2008.
Zelensky has expressed frustration about the grim warnings from U.S. military and intelligence officials about an imminent Russian invasion, which have taken a toll on Ukraine’s economy. The Ukrainian government said Sunday that it would start subsidizing domestic airlines’ insurance costs, in an effort to keep flights coming and going from the country. Ukraine’s SkyUp airline said Sunday that the Irish company that owns its aircraft banned one of its planes from entering Ukrainian airspace, forcing a flight from Portugal to Kyiv to land in Moldova. Also, Dutch carrier KLM suspended flights into Ukraine.
Ukraine also requested a meeting with Russia and other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe within 48 hours of Moscow’s failure to meet a Sunday deadline to explain its massing of more than 130,000 troops along its border with Ukraine and in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014. Russia is a party to the OSCE’s Vienna Document, a mechanism through which any member of the European security organization can question another member regarding any military activities they perceive as threatening.
“If Russia is serious when it talks about the indivisibility of security in the OSCE space, it must fulfill its commitment to military transparency in order to de-escalate tensions and enhance security for all,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted late Sunday.
A flurry of talks on both sides of the Atlantic in recent weeks has failed to find an off-ramp to the crisis. Even as the United States and Europe threaten Moscow with severe economic penalties in the event of an invasion, there are differences in their approach.
Biden said last week that a controversial European gas pipeline project connecting Russia and Germany would not go ahead if the Kremlin sends its forces into Ukraine. Germany’s new chancellor has not made a firm commitment to abandoning the pipeline, nor spelled out any detail on potential sanctions, although he sought to project a united front with NATO allies during his first visit to the White House last week.
Scholz has said only that Moscow would pay a “high price” in the event of an attack, and he has drawn criticism at home and abroad over his government’s refusal to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine as the United States and other NATO allies send missiles and other military equipment.
Germany and France have also made a point of keeping their embassies in Kyiv open despite the looming security threats that have prompted the United States and many others to reduce their personnel and urge citizens to leave Ukraine as soon as possible. France’s ambassador to Ukraine said Sunday that Paris is now advising French visitors to postpone all trips to the country, although it stopped short of recommending that French citizens leave Ukraine.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan hit back Sunday at accusations that the United States was spreading panic by warning about a possible attack, saying Washington and its allies were preparing for all potential outcomes, including a possible diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
“If Russia moves forward, we will defend NATO territory. We will impose costs on Russia, and we will ensure that we emerge from this as the West stronger, more determined, more purposeful than we have been in 30 years, and that Russia ultimately suffers a significant strategic cost for military action,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
David L. Stern in Kyiv, Rick Noack in Paris and Amy B Wang in Washington contributed to this report.