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US says will discuss Russia proposals but warns on Ukraine

December 18, 2021

WASHINGTON: The United States is willing to discuss security proposals put forward by Russia but disagrees with parts of them and will impose "massive consequences" over any "aggression" on Ukraine, a senior official said on Friday.

"We are prepared to discuss them. That said, there are some things in this document that the Russians know will be unacceptable," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official said the United States expected to respond to the Russians "sometime next week with a more concrete proposal" on talks after consulting with European allies, which the United States insists need to be part of any discussions.

Russia took the unusual step of presenting draft agreements on security amid mounting concerns over its amassing of tens of thousands of troops by the Ukrainian border. The US official renewed a warning that the West would not tolerate an invasion, which would come after seven years of a Russian-supported insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

"If there is any further aggression against Ukraine, that will have massive, massive consequences and will carry a high price," the official said. She said that any retaliation would consist "largely" of economic measures.

But she warned: "We are prepared to consider a number of things that we had not considered in the past, and the results will be very profound on the Russian Federation.

"Meanwhile, Russia has put forward a highly contentious list of security guarantees it says it wants the west to agree to in order to lower tensions in Europe and defuse the crisis over Ukraine, including many elements that have already been ruled out.

The demands include a ban on Ukraine entering Nato and a limit to the deployment of troops and weapons to Nato’s eastern flank, in effect returning Nato forces to where they were stationed in 1997, before an eastward expansion.

The eight-point draft treaty was released by Russia’s foreign ministry as its forces massed within striking distance of Ukraine’s borders. Moscow said ignoring its interests would lead to a “military response” similar to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Vladimir Putin has demanded that the west provide Russia “legal guarantees” of its security. But the Kremlin’s aggressive proposals are likely to be rejected in western capitals as an attempt to formalise a new Russian sphere of influence over eastern Europe.

The demands, spelled out by Moscow in full for the first time, were handed over to the US this week. They include a demand that Nato remove any troops or weapons deployed to countries that entered the alliance after 1997, which would include much of eastern Europe, including Poland, the former Soviet countries of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Balkan countries.

Russia has also demanded that Nato rule out further expansion, including the accession of Ukraine into the alliance, and that it does not hold drills without previous agreement from Russia in Ukraine, eastern Europe, in Caucasus countries such as Georgia or in Central Asia.

Those proposals are likely to be viewed extremely negatively by Nato countries, in particular Poland and the Baltic states. They have warned that Russia is attempting to re-establish a sphere of influence in the region and view the document as proof Moscow is seeking to limit their sovereignty.

A senior US official said on Friday that the Kremlin knows that some parts of its proposals were “unacceptable”. The Nato head, Jens Stoltenberg, has already ruled out any agreements denying Ukraine the right to enter the military alliance, saying it is up to Ukraine and the 30 Nato countries.

There are already major obstacles to Ukraine entering the alliance, including its territorial dispute with Russia over annexed Crimea. The Russia document also calls for the two countries to pull back any short- or medium-range missile systems out of reach, replacing the previous intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty that the US left in 2018.