Russia’s leading diplomat has said Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine but warned that it will not allow the West to “trample on” its security interests.
US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s president on Thursday that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against its neighbour next month.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov responded on Friday: “There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war.
“But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the US and its Nato allies worry that the concentration of about 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine heralds Moscow’s intention to attack the ex-Soviet state.
Russia has repeatedly denied having such plans, but has demanded that Nato promises Ukraine will never be allowed to join and that the alliance rolls back deployments of troops and military equipment in eastern Europe.
The US and Nato formally rejected those demands this week, although Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, perhaps offering a path to de-escalation.
President Vladimir Putin opened the weekly meeting of his Security Council on Friday, saying only that it would address foreign policy issues.
Later, in a video call with French President Emmanuel Macron, the Kremlin said he emphasised that the US and Nato had failed to consider Russia’s key demands.
At the same time, Mr Putin spoke in favour of continuing talks about a stalled peace agreement for eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels are fighting Ukrainian forces.
Those talks are among Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, and presidential envoys from the four countries met in Paris on Wednesday and agreed to have another meeting in Berlin in two weeks.
Russia’s official response to the US proposals — and the ultimate decision over whether to invade — rests with Mr Putin, but the Kremlin has sounded a grim note so far, saying there is “little ground for optimism”.
Mr Lavrov said the US suggested the two sides could talk about limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft.
He said Moscow proposed discussing those issues years ago, but Washington and its allies never took them up on it until now.
He described the US offers for dialogue on confidence-building measures as reasonable, but emphasised that Moscow’s main concerns are to stop Nato’s expansion and the deployment of alliance weapons near Russia’s borders.
He noted that international agreements say the security of one nation must not come at the expense of others, and that he would send letters to ask his western counterparts to address that obligation.
“It will be hard for them to wiggle out from answering why they aren’t fulfilling the obligations sealed by their leaders not to strengthen their security at the expense of others,” he said.
As tensions build, Washington warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it invades Ukraine, including penalties targeting senior Russian officials and key economic sectors.
US officials said on Thursday that Germany would not allow a newly constructed pipeline — which is meant to bring gas directly from Russia — to begin operations if Russia invades Ukraine.
Asked about possible sanctions, Mr Lavrov said that Moscow had warned Washington that their introduction would amount to a complete severing of ties.
While Moscow and the West are mulling their next steps, Nato said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the US ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe.
The Kremlin has launched a series of military drills involving motorised infantry and artillery units in south-western Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic.
The Russian military also has moved troops to Belarus, which borders Ukraine, for sweeping joint drills, raising western fears that Moscow could stage an attack from the north.
While concerns rise about an invasion, Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Following the 2014 removal of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and backed an insurgency in the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed more than 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a settlement have stalled.