The United States admitted on Tuesday that it failed to secure Russia’s commitment to an imminent de-escalation on the border with Ukraine, but diplomatic chiefs from the two rival powers appear keen to continue their dialogue.
The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, spoke by phone again to try to defuse this high-risk crisis that threatens to degenerate into a war in Europe.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin received Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, his ally although a member of the European Union and NATO, in a form of snub intended to show a certain division in the Western camp.
Blinken “urged immediate Russian de-escalation and the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Ukraine’s borders,” the State Department spokesman said. He also “urged a diplomatic path to be followed.”
But a senior US official told reporters that Lavrov gave “no indication” of “a change in the coming days” on the Ukrainian border, where the West accuses Moscow of having concentrated more than 100,000 troops with a view to a possible invasion of the country. neighbor.
“We keep hearing these assurances that Russia is not planning to invade, but certainly every action we see says otherwise,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Russia denies any war intention, but conditions any de-escalation to guarantees for its security, in particular that Ukraine will never be a member of NATO and that the Atlantic Alliance will withdraw its forces to their 1997 positions, that is, before its successive enlargements in Europe from the east.
The United States rejected these requests in a letter last week, while opening the door to negotiations on other issues, such as the deployment of missiles or reciprocal limits on military exercises.
The exchange between Blinken and Lavrov was the first since that American letter.
While Blinken reiterated the threat of “swift and severe” sanctions in the event of a Russian offensive, he said the United States wanted to “continue a substantive exchange with Russia on mutual security concerns.”
“Blinken agreed that there are reasons to continue the dialogue. We will see how it goes,” Lavrov said on Russian television.
According to the senior US official, the next step will be the delivery by Russia to the United States, on an unspecified date, of a “formal response” validated by Putin to the letter sent by Washington.
In a sign of support as tens of thousands of Russian soldiers remain deployed on the Ukrainian border, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was scheduled to travel to Kiev, where he was preceded by his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki.
Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky hailed growing Western diplomatic and military support for Moscow, “the most important” since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
To deter Moscow from any aggression, the West has also accelerated its preparations to impose punitive economic measures.
The United States and the United Kingdom, one of the favorite investment zones of Russian oligarchs, said on Monday that they would sanction those close to the Kremlin.
In the UK, wealthy Russians will risk having their assets frozen in the country and could also be banned from entering the territory. British citizens and companies could also be prohibited from doing business with them.
“We are not going to back down or stand by listening to US sanctions threats,” the Russian embassy in Washington responded on its Facebook page on Tuesday.
While Moscow has favored direct contacts with Washington since the beginning of this crisis, the Europeans are trying to stay in the diplomatic game.
During a telephone interview on Tuesday, the head of the Italian government, Mario Draghi, called on Putin to “de-escalate”.
On Monday, on the eve of his trip to Kiev, Boris Johnson urged Russia to “step back and engage in dialogue.”
In response to this Western front, the Russian president received the Hungarian Orban on Tuesday, whose trip is criticized by the opposition due to the tensions around Ukraine.
Putin, who has not spoken on the merits of the Ukrainian issue since the end of December, was going to give a press conference with his host at the end of the afternoon.
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