Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov Tuesday that the Kremlin must withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s border and reiterated the US threat of “swift and severe consequences” if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an invasion, according to the State Department.
Blinken spoke to Lavrov to follow up on the American response to security guarantees demanded by the Russian government — which include barring Ukraine or other former Soviet satellites from becoming NATO members, as well as pulling back Western forces stationed in Eastern Europe after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
The US formally delivered its written response to the Russian government last week after describing the demands as a “non-starter.”
The State Department said Tuesday that Blinken offered “to continue a substantive exchange with Russia on mutual security concerns” while reiterating that Ukraine has the right to determine its “own foreign policy and alliances.”
Lavrov said Russia’s foreign and defense ministries are still working on its response to the US, which will be sent to Putin for review before it is transmitted to Washington. The two diplomats agreed to speak again once that happens.
Senior State Department officials described the call to the Associated Press as professional and “fairly candid,” noting that Lavrov restated Russia’ insistence that it has no plans to invade Ukraine, leading Blinken to reply that if Putin didn’t really intend to invade Ukraine, Russia should withdraw its troops.
Meanwhile, Putin met Tuesday with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow and claimed the West’s response to Russia’s demands had violated obligations on integrity of security made at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It was his first public comment on the situation since the end of last year.
Despite Hungary having been a member of NATO since 1999, Orban has forged close ties to Putin, saying Tuesday that “I have high hopes that for many years to come we can work together.”
“This is our 13th meeting. That is a rarity,” said Orban, who has led Hungary since 2010. “Practically all those who were my colleagues in the EU are no longer.”
“My visit today is also a kind of peace mission. I would like to reassure you that none of the leaders of the European Union and its member nations want a war or conflicts,” Orban added to the Russian leader. “We call for political solutions and mutually beneficial agreements.”
Hungarian Defense Minister Tibor Benko echoed those sentiments on Tuesday, saying the sides should not engage in “Cold War rhetoric.”
“There’s no need for 1,000 NATO soldiers to come to Hungary and be stationed here permanently,” he said. “No one wants to create a situation where people are afraid and worried by showing off their forces.”
With Post wires