But Lavrov unhappy Moscow’s key demands on Nato sidestepped
Moscow said yesterday that it was ready for “serious conversations” about Washington’s proposals to defuse the Ukraine crisis, which are understood to include an invitation for Russia to inspect US missile bases in Europe.
The US and Nato formally rejected Moscow’s demand this week that Ukraine never be allowed to join the transatlantic alliance, as more than 125,000 Russian troops massed on the country’s border.
In a letter, hand-delivered by the ambassador to Moscow, Washington proposed other areas of co-operation.
These include reviving arms control treaties, limiting military exercises and granting Moscow long-demanded access to a number of Nato sites in Europe, sources told US media.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said there was scope to discuss “secondary issues” but regretted the lack of movement on Moscow’s key demands that Ukraine be barred from Nato and the US withdraw Nato troops from Eastern Europe.
“As far as this document goes, there is a reaction that allows us to hope for a start of a serious discussion but on secondary issues,” he said. “There is no positive reaction to the main issue.”
Separately, a foreign ministry spokesman described war with Ukraine as “unthinkable” and said Russia hoped for progress in a forthcoming round of talks aimed at resolving the conflict in the Donbass region. Russian markets and the ruble rose on the news.
“There is a scope for dialogue,” Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said as he indicated that Washington’s rejection of Russia’s key demands would not immediately trigger a military response.
Mr Putin would analyse the response in full before any further move, Mr Peskov said, adding: “It would be foolish to expect [an answer] as early as next week.” The content of the letter has not officially been made public.
Inspections of missile bases in Poland and Romania could assuage the Kremlin’s fears that the missiles might be targeting Russia, not Iran, as the US has claimed.
The proposal, if agreed, would provide Russia with access to Nato sites that it has been demanding for years.
“Russia will become one step closer to the status of guarantor of European security that Moscow has sought for almost three decades,” Pavel Luzin, an independent military analyst, said.
However, it remained to be seen whether Poland and Romania would allow Russian military inspectors at their sites, he said.
Separately, plans for a visible European Union military training mission in Ukraine were at risk of being watered down as some nations feared the move could escalate tensions with Russia.
Germany opposed sending an EU-badged mission to help Kiev overhaul its Soviet-era academy for military officers because it could be perceived as an act of aggression by the Kremlin.
At a meeting of EU foreign ministers this week, the European External Action Service, the bloc’s foreign affairs arm, presented plans to deploy up to 35 advisers to Ukraine in response to the threat of a Russian invasion.
While most member states backed the plans, Germany joined Italy, Spain and Greece in raising concerns over the possibility that they risked inflaming tensions. They spoke out in favour of sending financial aid to Kiev instead.
Sovereign dollar bonds issued by Ukraine soared yesterday, enjoying their best day in almost two years, while Russian debt also gained after the Kremlin’s response. But, in a sign of lingering international concern, oil hit seven-year highs above $90 a barrel, then eased later. Russia is the world’s second-largest oil producer and the crisis over Ukraine has fanned fears that energy supplies to Europe will be disrupted.
A Ukrainian presidential adviser told Reuters that Kiev wants to borrow some $5bn from international organisations and in bilateral aid as borderline “hysteria” over the threat of a Russian attack was limiting its access to capital markets.
Russia’s security demands, presented in December, include an end to further Nato enlargement, barring Ukraine from ever joining and pulling back the alliance’s forces and weaponry from Eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War.
Turkey, a Nato member that has good ties with both Kiev and Moscow, said it was important to keep talking. “All problems cannot be solved with a document, one or two meetings,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in Ankara.
China told the United States it wants all sides involved to remain calm. “We call on all parties to stay calm and refrain from doing things that agitate tensions and hype up the crisis,” China’s Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Wang Yi as telling US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a call.
Western countries have warned of economic sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine.
Telegraph Media Group Limited