Putin signals openness to diplomacy while blaming the US for the crisis

MOSCOW – President Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday said the United States was trying to drag Russia into an armed conflict over Ukraine that his government did not want and signaled that he was ready to engage in operations. more diplomatic, even as he insisted that NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe threatened world peace.

Mr Putin said he hoped that “will continue to have a dialogue” on Russia’s security requirements, not repeating his earlier threat to take unspecified “military-technical” measures. if the West does not comply. Resolving the standoff over Ukraine for the first time since December, Putin appears to be trying to ease tensions in a crisis that has raised fears of an all-out Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian president claimed that it was the United States that was fanning the flames of war, seeking to spur the Kremlin to act and create a pretext to enact harsh new sanctions. Officials in Russia – as well as Ukraine – have accused the Biden administration of exaggerating the threat of a Russian invasion, even as the Kremlin has deployed mass, by Western estimates, more than 100,000 troops to the south, east and north of Ukraine, causing the crisis.

“Their most important task is to contain Russia’s development,” Putin said of the United States, reiterating one of his frequent talking points. “Ukraine is just a tool to achieve this goal. It can be done in a variety of ways, such as dragging us into some kind of armed conflict and then forcing their allies in Europe to enact harsh sanctions against them. us again”.

Asked about the US’s written response to Moscow’s security requests, made last week, Mr Putin said it was clear that “Russia’s main concerns turned out to be ignored. ” responses as it considers its next move.

Mr. Putin’s well-thought-out comments speak to the heightened tensions today – and the key decisions facing Russia’s longtime leader in the coming weeks. Military analysts say maintaining Russia’s current military build-up, which includes units thousands of miles away, will become increasingly expensive and logistically challenging.

Bringing some of them back to base before a diplomatic victory could be seen as a sign of weakness, while launching an attack on Ukraine would likely put many people off. killed and caused widespread consequences.

In Washington, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, reacted sharply to Mr Putin’s comments, comparing them to “when the fox is screaming from the top of the chicken coop that he is afraid of chickens”.

“We know who the fox is in this case,” she said.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said he would “leave that to the Kremlinologist researchers out there” to interpret the Russian leader’s words.

Putin’s appearance, at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary after they met for five hours, came as a diplomatic explosion involving Europe and the United States. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, who later said that the United States had agreed to “further discuss” the Russian requirements.

The Kremlin said Putin also held a phone call on Tuesday with Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy and that a face-to-face meeting with President Emmanuel Macron of France was planned. Mr Putin will speak with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson flew to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky to express his support, saying there was “a clear and present danger.”

Mr Zelensky, who also met the Polish prime minister on Tuesday, offered his own stark assessment, after weeks of dismissing US and British assessments of the severity of the Russian threat.

“This will not be a war between Ukraine and Russia,” he said, if diplomatic efforts fail. “This will be a European war, a full-scale war.”

While Mr. Johnson tried to keep his focus on Russia, he was immediately put on the defensive by forcefully questioning a scandal involving nefarious parties during the pandemic that is keeping him in office. service. “On the Ukraine issue,” one reporter asked, “why should the international community take your diplomacy seriously when you are so preoccupied?”

Mr Johnson dodges most questions about his troubles at home. But pressed about whether he would release an unverified report by a senior civil servant investigating the parties, Mr Johnson replied: “Of course we’ll release everything shortly when the process is complete.”

For weeks, Russia has insisted that the current crisis is not just about Ukraine, but about a European security architecture that does not take Russia’s interests into account. Last December, when US officials began warning about what they said was Russia’s military buildup, Moscow issued written requests for “security guarantees”. They include that NATO, the Western military alliance, does not expand eastward, guarantees that Ukraine will never join it, and that NATO will draw forces in Eastern European countries formerly part of the alliance. Soviet Union or its orbit.

Mr. Putin said that these are existing problems that Russia is determined to finally solve. However, many Western analysts and officials interpret his stance as an attempt to create a pretext for possible military action against Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that Mr. Russia has returned to the sphere of influence since Ukraine’s pro-Western revolution in 2014.

The US has tried to engage Mr. Putin on his diplomatic demands, betting that such talks – backed by threats of severe sanctions if they fail – could avert them. a Russian attack on Ukraine. Following meetings with Russian officials last month, the United States and its NATO partners sent Russia a written response to Putin’s requests.

Western officials said they did not budge in those responses to objections that every country should be allowed to choose its alliance, but said they had offered to negotiate on security issues. other security that Russia is interested in.

Putin on Tuesday said Russia was still “thoroughly analyzing” those responses, but it was clear that his most pressing demands had been ignored. He described the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO as a fundamental threat not only to Russia but also to world peace.

He suggested that Ukraine’s increased armament by NATO’s Western ally could launch a war against Russia to retake Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, a move not recognized by the international community. According to him, that could lead to war between Russia and NATO.

“If we consider all these questions deeply and seriously, it is clear that in order to avoid such a negative development situation – and we want to avoid it – it is in the interest of all countries. , including Russia’s interests, must really be taken into account and must find a way to solve this problem,” Putin said.

However, Mr. Putin said he would continue to talk, including with Mr. Macron, the French president, who is likely to visit Moscow in the near future.

“I hope that in the end we will find this solution although it is not easy, we understand that,” Putin said. “But to talk today about what that would be like – I’m not ready to do that, of course.”

Even in the face of the West, the Kremlin wants to show that Russia has friends around the world. The Kremlin says Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to Moscow is being prepared. On Friday, Putin will visit Beijing for a summit with President Xi Jinping on the opening day of the Winter Olympics, in the Chinese leader’s first meeting with his foreign counterpart. since the pandemic.

At the United Nations on Tuesday, Russia’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters he hoped the Olympics would provide a respite from rising tensions, at least for the first few days of February. A day earlier, Russia and the United States had angrily confronted each other over the Ukraine crisis at a public meeting of the Security Council, with plays and rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War era.

After a joint press conference with Mr Putin and Mr Orban, the Kremlin released footage of the two enjoying champagne socially distanced from each other. Orban is the Russian president’s closest ally among the leaders of the European Union and NATO.

“We have a number of days and weeks to negotiate,” Orban told Russian state television, responding to a question about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine. “I don’t think something will happen all of a sudden.”

Anton Troianovski reported from Moscow and Michael Schwirtz from Kyiv. Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko and Valerie Hopkins from Moscow, Jason Horowitz from Rome, Maria Varenikova from Kyiv, Michael Crowley and David E. Sanger in Washington, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Putin signals openness to diplomacy while blaming the US for the crisis

Fry Electronics Team

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