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As concerns grow that Russia is preparing to attack Ukraine, the United States is not complying with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s key demands, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.
Blinken made the remarks as he announced that the United States presented its formal, written response to a list of demands from Putin last month regarding European security. Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops in Russia and Belarus along the border with Ukraine, raising fears of an imminent invasion.
US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered the US document to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday. It was also shared with Congress.
“We make it clear that there are fundamental principles that we are committed to respecting and defending, including the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances” , Blinken said.
Among Putin’s demands are a ban on Ukraine’s membership of the defense pact and the withdrawal of NATO military personnel and equipment from states added after 1997, including the three Baltic states bordering the Russia.
Although the letter has not been made public, Blinken has reiterated the line of US officials in recent weeks that such requests are not valid. “From our perspective, I couldn’t be clearer: NATO’s door is open, stays open, and that’s our commitment,” Blinken said.
Blinken, who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week, is expected to meet him again in the coming days.
“There is no daylight between the United States and our allies and partners on these issues,” Blinken said.
In a separate press conference on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the alliance’s commitment to its Open Door Membership Policy which allows any European state to join s he can fulfill certain obligations.
“We cannot and will not compromise on the principles upon which the security of our alliance and the security in Europe and North America are based,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO has also called on Russia to participate in talks on cyberattacks, chemical warfare and arms control, Stoltenberg said.
The ball is in Russia’s court, says Blinken
While the Biden administration is working diplomatically, the United States has stepped up military assistance to Ukraine. Deliveries of Javelin anti-tank missiles, anti-armour systems and ammunition are expected to arrive in Kyiv this week.
The United States had previously announced that five Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, once in the hands of the now defunct Afghan Air Force, would be transferred to Ukraine and that 8,500 American troops stationed in Europe and the United States had been placed on heightened readiness. .
The United States has also crafted a “tough” set of economic sanctions, including export controls, Blinken said.
“We have charted a diplomatic course. We have foreseen dire consequences should Russia choose further aggression. We have moved forward with more support for Ukraine’s security and economy. And we, our partners and allies, are united at all levels,” Blinken said. “It’s up to Russia to decide how to react. We are ready in any case.”
The Biden administration has been scrambling to harden its stance on Russia – especially after criticism last week at a press conference in which President Biden appeared to suggest a lesser response to a ‘minor incursion’ from Russia to Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the State Department was careful to stress the seriousness of the response the United States prepared if Putin refused to reduce the military presence near Ukraine.
“Typically, a response like this starts out gradually and builds up if the country in question doesn’t change its behavior. We’re reversing that here. We’re going to start at the top of the escalation ladder, that is- to say our sanctions, our response will be severe,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in an interview with NPR.
As many as 15,000 US citizens were in Ukraine last month, according to State Department estimates. On Wednesday, Blinken urged them to consider leaving the country. Although he assured them that the embassy in Kyiv would remain open, he warned that a Russian invasion could complicate the embassy’s ability to help citizens.
Some in Ukraine are skeptical that an invasion is imminent, but other options could be on the table
The force Russia has amassed on the Ukrainian border – around 127,000 troops – “isn’t even close to what you need to occupy Ukraine,” Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister, said in a statement. an interview with NPR.
Zagorodnyuk said he does not yet expect Russia to mount a full-scale invasion, but that Russia can still carry out hybrid attacks against Ukraine, such as cyberattacks and bomb threats – and that Russia might try to isolate Ukraine with a blockade.
If Russia sent its troops into Ukraine, it would be the biggest invasion since World War II, President Biden said on Tuesday, adding that such a move would “change the world”.
Putin has long insisted that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”. In a detailed history published last July, Putin argued that the countries are two “parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space”.
“For him, I think it’s really personal. Putin, in his 22 years in power, has tried and failed many times to bring Ukraine back into the fold. And I think he feels he now is the time to deal with this unfinished business,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former senior intelligence officer now with the Center for a New American Security.
Although an outright invasion by Russia has been the main international concern, a number of other scenarios are possible, experts say, ranging from hybrid warfare to rising tensions on the eastern border of the EU. Ukraine, where Russian-backed insurgents fought with Ukrainian security forces. for years, in the area known as Donbass.
If Russia opts for a traditional ground invasion, it has three main potential routes into Ukraine, according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies: “a push northward, perhaps attempting to outflank Ukrainian defenses around from Kiev approaching through Belarus; central thrust advancing due west into Ukraine; and a southern thrust advancing across the Isthmus of Perekop.”
Putin’s Russia attacked Ukraine’s sovereignty in 2014 when it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.