Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable

A top Russian diplomat warned Wednesday that Moscow will not accept anything except a “watertight” U.S. guarantee that NATO will not allow Ukraine to join the military alliance, The Associated Press reported.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, head of the Russian delegation during its security talks with the U.S. in Geneva last week, repeated that his country does not plan to invade Ukraine, but it’s vital that Moscow receive Western security guarantees.  

“For us, the matter of priority is achievement of watertight, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees” that Ukraine and other former Soviet nations will not join the military alliance, he told reporters. 

The message comes as U.S. and NATO are attempting to quell tensions with Russia, which has sent an estimated 100,000 troops to its border with Ukraine and sparked fears it may soon attempt an invasion. 

The military buildup is reminiscent of moves Russia made before it annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, when the Kremlin also backed a separatist insurgency in the country that has killed more than 14,000 people over eight years of conflict. 

U.S. officials joined talks in Geneva and a NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels last week in a bid to use diplomacy to talk down Moscow, which has also sent an unspecified number of troops to Belarus for war games north of Ukraine next month. 

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has since warned that Russia can use Belarus to expand aggression against Kyiv. 

Washington has also issued stark statements on the situation, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday saying that the U.S. believes Russia could carry out an attack on Ukraine “at any point.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Ukraine Wednesday to reassure the former Soviet nation it has Western support. 

In recent months, Russia has demanded that NATO not expand or position its forces and weapons in Ukraine or other ex-Soviet nations. It has also pressed the U.S. and NATO to provide a written response to its asks “within days.” 

The U.S. and NATO have made clear they will not give in to such demands, though officials have said they are open to possible further talks on arms control. 

But Ryabkov said there can be no useful discussion of those issues if the West doesn’t follow Moscow’s demand that NATO not expand.  

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