Russian officials signaled at least a token interest in diplomacy to resolve the ongoing crisis with the West over Ukraine Friday, insisting that Moscow doesn’t “want wars.”
“If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a radio interview Friday, according to Reuters. “We don’t want wars. But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored.”
Lavrov spoke two days after the US formally rejected Moscow’s demands that Ukraine be blocked from ever entering NATO, as well as that the alliance roll back its presence in former Soviet bloc states.
The State Department called the Russian stance a “non-starter,” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that opinion Wednesday.
“Right now, the document is with them, and the ball is in their court,” Blinken told reports.
While Lavrov said Friday that the West had ignored Russia’s requests, he added that there was “something” in the written responses from the US and NATO — and indicated that he was more pleased with the message from Washington than Brussels.
Lavrov went on to say he expected to meet with Blinken in the next couple of weeks. He did not elaborate on differences in the US and NATO responses.
Russia has amassed at least 100,000 forces along the border of Ukraine over recent weeks – stoking fears of an imminent invasion.
Concerns grew after the US and UK began to evacuate the families of diplomats from their respective embassies – a move Ukraine called “premature.”
The US and NATO allies have amped up their military presence and aid to Ukraine in recent days. On Monday, the Pentagon announced it would be placing 8,500 troops on “heightened alert” to aid NATO’s Response Force in the event of an invasion.
At the same time, Ukraine has been pushing a message of calm, saying there is “no need to panic” despite the concerns from the West.
During a phone conversation between Biden and Zelensky on Thursday, the US president reportedly told his Ukrainian counterpart that a Russian attack on Kiev was almost certain, an unnamed Ukrainian official told CNN.
The White House hastily denied the report, calling it “completely false.”
“President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne tweeted, later adding that “[r]eports of anything more or different than that are completely false.”
Zelensky later described the discussion as positive, saying they talked about “recent diplomatic efforts on de-escalation and agreed on joint actions for the future.”
If Russia invades Ukraine, the US and its European allies have vowed to implement severe economic sanctions against Moscow. Some have worried that such sanctions will lead Russia to cut off its natural gas and oil exports to Europe; however, the US has already begun discussions on ways to counter that move if it happens.
Russia has denied any intention to invade and described Western concerns as “hysteria.”