US delivers written response to Russian demands amid Ukraine tensions

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. delivered on Wednesday a written response to Russian security demands that Moscow has called for and used as justification for its massing of more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, appearing poised to invade. 

The secretary did not detail what was in the document, but said it was sent with President Biden’s blessing and that the president made personal edits and was intimately involved in its drafting.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, delivered the document to Moscow, Blinken said in a briefing with reporters at the State Department. 

Blinken said the written response to Russia “reiterates what we said publicly for many weeks and in a sense for many, many years,” rejecting the Kremlin’s demands that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) close its doors to future applicants, in particular Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries, and Russian demands to limit how the U.S. military engages globally.

“We made clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances,” Blinken said.  

The secretary added that the U.S. also reiterated its openness to discussions with Russia on a “reciprocal” basis to address the security concerns in Moscow, but also the concerns for Washington and its allies. 

“The document delivered includes concerns of the United States, and our allies and partners about Russia’s actions that undermine security, a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised, and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground,” Blinken said.

“All told it sets out a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it.”

The Biden administration has stressed diplomacy with Russia even as the president and his top officials warn that Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to order an aggressive attack against Ukraine in the coming weeks. 

Russia has demanded for weeks that the U.S. respond in writing to a draft treaty it published in December calling for NATO to cease expansion, and in particular certify that Ukraine would never join the alliance, and other security demands specific to Washington.

The U.S. has rejected these demands and over a series of diplomatic meetings in Europe in January, has sought to enforce U.S. and European solidarity against Russia, while extending an offer of ongoing discussions to address steps both sides can take to increase security and stability on the continent. 

Blinken said the delivered document puts the ball in Russia’s court to decide to continue diplomacy. 

Yet the secretary underscored the administration’s steps to prepare for a Russian attack on Ukraine, coordinating closely with NATO allies, governments in Europe and the Ukrainian government to increase defensive military aid and economic assistance to Kyiv to offset the dangers of a Russian invasion. 

The U.S. has provided an estimated $200 million in additional defensive military assistance, including Javelin missiles, anti-tank armor systems, 283 tons of ammunition and non-lethal equipment, and will soon deliver MI-17 helicopters. 

The administration has also authorized Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to send U.S.-made defensive military assistance to Ukraine.

The secretary underscored that the administration is prepared to impose harsh economic sanctions on Russia and restrict U.S. exports to the country should it launch an attack on Ukraine.

“All told our actions over the past week have sharpened the choice facing Russia now,” the secretary said. 

Still, Blinken was faced with questions about differences among the U.S. and its allies on how far a coordinated sanctions policy would go if Moscow crossed Ukraine’s border by force.

Biden last week conceded that there are concerns that sanctions imposed on Russia will negatively impact the economies of the U.S. and Europe and that conversations among allies are aiming to define what consequences to impose on specific Russian actions. 

German officials have sought to distance the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which aims to deliver gas from Russia to Germany, from the conflict amid U.S. objection to the pipeline in general and calls for Berlin to terminate the project in response to Russian aggression.

Berlin has further blocked NATO-ally Estonia from providing German-origin defensive materials to Ukraine. The German government’s offer on Wednesday to send 5,000 military helmets to Kyiv has elicited responses ranging from tempered gratitude to ridicule.

"What kind of support will Germany send next?...Pillows?" Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko reportedly told a German newspaper.

Blinken said the U.S. is “absolutely confident in German solidarity” in confronting Russia over Ukraine, and that “different countries have different authorities, they have different capabilities, they have different areas of expertise, and we're bringing all of those to bear.”

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