Russia
suggested on Monday that it was ready to keep talking to the West to try to
defuse a security crisis in which it has massed a huge force within striking
distance of Ukraine, while a Ukrainian official said Kyiv was prepared to make
concessions to Moscow.

In a
televised exchange, President Vladimir Putin was shown asking his foreign
minister, Sergei Lavrov, whether there was a chance of an agreement to address
Russia’s security concerns, or whether it was just being dragged into tortuous
negotiations.

Lavrov
replied: “We have already warned more than once that we will not allow
endless negotiations on questions that demand a solution today.”

But he added:
“It seems to me that our possibilities are far from exhausted … At this
stage, I would suggest continuing and building them up.” 

Washington
has Russia could invade Ukraine “any day now”, and British Prime
Minister Boris Johnson on Monday called the situation “very, very
dangerous”.

Russia has
positioned more than 100,000 troops near to Ukraine’s borders but denies
planning to invade, accusing the West of hysteria. 

Earlier in
the day, the Group of Seven large Western economies (G7) had warned Russia of
“massive” economic consequences if it did invade, and promised Kyiv
swift support.

Ukraine’s
ambassador to Britain backtracked on remarks suggesting that Kyiv would
reconsider its attempt to join NATO — one of Russia’s primary concerns — but
did say that other concessions could be on offer. 

“We are
not a member of NATO right now and to avoid war we are ready for many
concessions and that is what we are doing in conversations with the
Russians,” he told the BBC in a clarification.

“It has
nothing to do with NATO, which (membership application) is enshrined in the
constitution.”

Stocks slide

The Kremlin
said that if Ukraine renounced its aspiration to join the Western military
alliance, it would significantly help address Russia’s concerns. 

Moscow has
made clear it sees the former Soviet republic’s quest for closer ties with the
West, notably through NATO, as a threat.

Eight years
ago, mass protests on Kyiv’s Maidan square in favour of closer integration with
the West forced out the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Faced with
the ascendancy of pro-Western politicians promising to advance democracy and
fight corruption just across its border, Russia captured and then annexed
Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, home to the Russian Black Sea fleet.

It also
supported pro-Russian rebels who have seized part of Ukraine’s industrial,
largely Russian-speaking east in a war that is still adding to its toll of more
than 14,000 lives lost.

The G7
finance ministers said fresh military aggression by Russia against Ukraine
would trigger “economic and financial sanctions which will have massive
and immediate consequences on the Russian economy”.

But talk of
diplomatic efforts continuing brought the price of crude oil down off the
seven-year highs it had hit earlier amid concerns that sanctions would disrupt
exports from Russia, a major producer, in an already tight market.

Major
European stock markets slumped by between 2.0% and 3.5% before making up some
of their losses, as did Russian and Ukrainian bonds.

Sanctions
could ultimately rebound on Western powers, which rely heavily on Russia for
energy supplies, notably gas, as well as other raw materials. 

European
banks in particular fear that Russia could be excluded from the SWIFT global
payment system, which would prevent the repayment of Russian debts. 

The Dutch
airline KLM has halted flights to Ukraine and through its airspace, while
Germany’s Lufthansa said it was considering a suspension, and British Airways
flights appeared on Monday to be avoiding Ukrainian airspace.

Ukraine
International Airlines, the country’s biggest carrier, said insurers had told
it they would no longer cover its flights in Ukrainian airspace.

Scholz
visit

Lavrov told
Putin the United States had put forward concrete proposals on reducing military
risks, but that responses from NATO and the European Union — which has been at
pains not to let Moscow divide its members — had not been satisfactory.

None of my
fellow ministers responded to my direct message,” Lavrov said.
“Therefore we will continue to seek a concrete response from each
country.”

An EU
official, who asked not to be named but has spoken to Putin by phone in the
past, said U.S. talks with Russia were yielding little.

“Russia
is trying to demonstrate that it is the policeman in the region,” the
source said. “The criticism by Moscow against Ukraine is this idea that
the people made a choice for liberal democracy, values, principles and
freedoms.”

German
Chancellor Olaf Scholz held talks in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy,
to be followed on Tuesday by a meeting with Putin in Moscow.

He told
reporters he saw “no reasonable justification” for Russia’s military
activity on Ukraine’s border, and that Russia should accept offers to discuss
European security. He announced a credit of 150 million euros ($170 million)
for Ukraine.

While Zelenskiy
affirmed that Ukraine still wanted to join NATO, Scholz said it was strange
that Russia had raised the issue now, when it was “not on the
agenda”.

Kyiv has long
resented the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 project – a pipeline that will allow
Russia to circumvent Ukraine in exporting gas to Germany – and has bristled at
Germany’s refusal to join other NATO partners in selling it weapons.

Germany did,
however, begin sending troops on Monday to help NATO member Lithuania bolster
NATO’s border with Russia. 

 

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2022-02-15

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