Russia on Friday sent its strongest signal so far that it is willing to engage with U.S. security proposals and reiterated that it does not want war over Ukraine.
“If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don’t want wars. But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian radio stations in an interview.
Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border as it presses demands for a redrawing of post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe.
Mr. Lavrov said the West was ignoring Russia’s interests but there was at least “something” in written responses submitted by the U.S. and NATO on Wednesday to Russia’s proposals.
Mr. Lavrov said he expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken again in the next couple of weeks. Their last meeting in Geneva produced no breakthrough but both sides agreed to keep talking.
Mr. Lavrov said, without giving details, that the U.S. counter-proposals were better than NATO’s. Russia was studying them and President Vladimir Putin would decide how to respond.
While the U.S. and NATO responses have not been made public, both have stated they are willing to engage with Moscow on a series of topics, including arms control. The U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, said Washington had raised the possibility of “reciprocal transparency measures... including on offensive weapons systems in Ukraine.”
The head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency told Reuters that Russia was prepared to attack Ukraine but added: “I believe that the decision to attack has not yet been made”.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia, said his country had absolutely no interest in a war and that conflict would break out only if Belarus or Russia were directly attacked.
The Kremlin said Mr. Putin would spend a “lot of time” discussing European security issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping when he visits Beijing next week for the opening of the Winter Olympics.
Mr. Putin also plans a meeting with German business people, following talks with Italian executives on Wednesday at which he underlined the importance of energy ties between Russia and Italy.
Italy’s government had urged companies not to take part in that call, at a moment when Western governments are trying to build unity over possible sanctions.
No date has been set for the German meeting, which could also be controversial, especially as Ukraine has expressed frustration over Berlin’s refusal to provide it with weapons to defend itself and what some countries sees as its ambivalence over possible sanctions against Russia.