Russia demands US, NATO response next week on Ukraine

Russia on Friday firmly reiterated its demand not to expand NATO to the east despite the military alliance’s rejection, amid the buildup of Russian forces near Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Moscow would not wait indefinitely for a Western response, saying he expected the United States and NATO to provide a written answer next week.

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Lavrov described Moscow’s demands for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet states, or deploy its forces and weapons there, as necessary to advance diplomatic efforts to defuse escalating tensions over Ukraine.

He said that the deployment of NATO forces and weapons near Russia’s borders is a security challenge that must be addressed immediately.

We have run out of patience,” Lavrov said at a press conference. “The West has been driven by arrogance and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”

Amid the tensions, Ukraine was hit by a large-scale cyber attack on Friday, which hit the websites of several government agencies.

This week’s negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels took place amid a large build-up of Russian forces near Ukraine that the West fears is a prelude to an invasion.

Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014, has denied plans to attack its neighbour, but has warned the West that NATO’s expansion into Ukraine and other former Soviet states is a “red line” that must not be crossed.

Washington and its allies vehemently rejected Moscow’s demand for security guarantees to prevent NATO expansion, but Russia and the West agreed to leave the door open for further potential talks on arms control and confidence-building measures aimed at reducing the potential for hostilities.

These issues are secondary to Moscow’s main demand not to expand NATO and not to deploy its weapons near Russian territory, Lavrov said, stressing that the Russian proposals represented “a package, not a stand.”

“They must understand that the key to everything is to ensure that NATO will not expand eastward,” he said.

Russia’s top diplomat warned that “if our proposals are rejected … we will make a decision on how to reliably guarantee our security,” citing President Vladimir Putin’s warning that Moscow would take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West stones its demands.

Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, who led the Russian delegation to the talks in Geneva, said Thursday that he would “not confirm or rule out” the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if the United States and its allies did not scale back. Military activities on Russia’s doorstep.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan dismissed comments about a possible Russian deployment in Cuba and Venezuela as “loud in public comments.”

The negotiations took place when an estimated 100,000 Russian soldiers were massed with tanks and other heavy weapons near Ukraine’s eastern border. The United States and its allies urged Russia to calm down by withdrawing troops to its permanent bases, but Moscow rejected the request, saying that the deployment of troops on its soil is free wherever it deems necessary.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that forces stationed in eastern Siberia and the Far East region are rushing to move across the country as part of snap exercises to check their “readiness to perform their tasks after redeploying at a great distance.”

“Special attention will be paid to assessing the country’s transportation infrastructure to ensure the movement of forces,” the ministry noted, adding that the forces will conduct live-fire exercises after the redeployment.

Russia seized control of Crimea after ousting the Moscow-friendly Ukrainian leader and in 2014 threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the Donbass region, the country’s industrial heartland.

Ukraine’s military intelligence said, on Friday, that the separatist forces have started exercises that include firing live ammunition under the supervision of Russian military officers.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of deploying its forces in Donbas to support the separatists, accusations Moscow has denied.

Read more: No breakthrough after eight hours of US-Russia talks on Ukraine

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