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Ukraine welcomes February talks with Russia to defuse crisis

It comes after Russia said the US was failing to address its main security concerns, but left the door open to further talks.

An instructor trains members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces in a city park in Kyiv.
An instructor trains members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces in a city park in Kyiv.

Updated Jan 27th 2022, 11:20 AM

UKRAINE HAS WELCOMED Russia’s plans to continue talks in early February as “good news” and a sign that Moscow was intent on finding a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

Relations between Russia and the West have reached their lowest point since the Cold War after Moscow deployed tens of thousands of troops on the border of pro-Western Ukraine, raising fears of an invasion.

Russia denies any plans to invade but last month put forward demands for wide-ranging security guarantees from the West, including that Ukraine never be allowed to join the US-led Nato military alliance.

In response, the US and other Nato member states have been conducting intense diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent days, as well as providing military reinforcement to Ukraine.

Senior Russian and Ukrainian officials met for eight hours in Paris yesterday with representatives of France and Germany.

“The good news is that advisors agreed to meet in Berlin in two weeks, which means that at least for the next two weeks, Russia is likely to remain on a diplomatic track,” Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters in Copenhagen after talks with his Danish counterpart.

He noted that while there were “no big changes” after yesterday’s meeting, “the agreement to continue discussions is good”.

Nonetheless, he called for the West to strengthen its military and defence cooperation with Kyiv.

“While I am a big fan of soft power, I’m afraid that this is really the time for hard power to be used”.

“A strong Ukraine is the best deterrence measure in itself”.

He also commended the US administration for “consulting with us before they speak with the Russians”.

But he recalled that Kyiv “will not allow anyone, even our friends, to impose any concessions on us” and insisted it was up to Russia to make concessions.

Meanwhile, Denmark has announced an aid package of 550 million kroner (€74 million) for Ukraine between 2022 and 2026.

“Every country can do something if it has political will. And when it doesn’t, it finds excuses to do nothing”, Kuleba said in a thinly-veiled swipe at Germany, which has refused to provide weapons to Ukraine.

US ‘failing’

Meanwhile, Russia has said that the United States was failing to address its main security concerns over Ukraine but left the door open to further talks to ease tensions.

The United States yesterday delivered a reply in coordination with Nato allies, rejecting any ban on Ukraine, but offering what it called a new “diplomatic path” out of the crisis.

In its first reaction to the reply, the Kremlin was unimpressed.

“It cannot be said that our views were taken into account, or that a readiness to take our concerns into account was demonstrated,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“Let’s not rush into assessments, it takes time to analyse,” he said, adding that the documents were with President Vladimir Putin.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow’s chief concern – the potential for Ukraine to join Nato – had been ignored, but that it would be possible to move forward on other issues.

“There was no positive response to the main question,” Lavrov said in a statement, but “there is a response which gives hope for the start of a serious conversation on secondary questions”.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that he would speak again in the coming days to Lavrov.

Blinken said the reply, which would remain confidential, “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it”.

He renewed an offer on “reciprocal” measures to address mutual security concerns, including reductions of missiles in Europe and transparency on military drills and Western aid to Ukraine.

‘Nato’s door is open’

But he made clear that the United States would not budge on Russia’s core demand that Ukraine never be allowed to join Nato.

“Nato’s door is open, remains open, and that is our commitment,” Blinken said.

Russia, which has a fraught historical relationship with Ukraine, has fuelled an insurgency in the former Soviet republic’s east that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

Russia that year also seized Crimea after the overthrow of a pro-Russian government in Kyiv.

The United States has warned of severe and swift consequences if Russia invades, including possible personal sanctions on Putin, and Nato has put 8,500 troops on standby.

“While we are hoping for and working for a good solution – de-escalation – we are also prepared for the worst,” Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday.

The US again encouraged its citizens to leave Ukraine, warning an invasion could be imminent.

But Ukraine’s government, hoping to prevent panic, has played down the dangers and sought to offer ways out.

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Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters the Russian troops posed “a threat to Ukraine” but that the numbers deployed were “insufficient for a full-scale offensive.”

Andriy Yermak, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky who took part in the Paris talks, wrote on Twitter that the meeting was “a strong signal of readiness for a peaceful settlement.”

China

China’s Foreign Minister told his American counterpart today that Russia’s “reasonable security concerns should be taken seriously and resolved”, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

In the call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken that focused on tensions over Ukraine, Wang Yi also said “regional security cannot be guaranteed by strengthening or even expanding military blocs”.

“All parties should completely abandon the Cold War mentality and form a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiation,” Wang said.

“Russia’s reasonable security concerns should be taken seriously and resolved.”

Blinken sought to impress upon Beijing the “global security and economic risks posed by further Russian aggression against Ukraine”, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.

© AFP 2022 

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