MOSCOW — Britain’s top diplomat flew to Moscow on Wednesday, seeking to defuse tensions over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine and warning that an invasion would have “massive consequences for everyone involved “.
“Russia has a choice here. We strongly encourage them to engage, defuse and choose the path of diplomacy,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said before departing for the first visit to Moscow by the UK’s top envoy in addition to of four years.
Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and launched military maneuvers in the region, but says it has no intention of invading its neighbour. He wants guarantees from the West that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet nations to become members, that the alliance will stop weapons deployments there and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe. The United States and NATO categorically reject these demands.
Western countries say they will impose their toughest sanctions ever on Russian companies and individuals if Moscow invades Ukraine.
“Russia should have no doubts about the strength of our response,” said Truss, who will meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the two-day visit.
Truss urged Moscow to abide by its international agreements which commit it to respect Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova again dismissed warnings from Washington and its allies about a possible Russian invasion, calling them “absurd”.
“We don’t have aggressive plans, but I have a feeling the United States does,” she said, adding that Washington’s statements reminded her of pre-US rhetoric in Iraq. .
Several dozen Ukrainians gathered outside the US embassy in Kiev, urging Washington to use its international influence to prevent a Russian offensive.
In recent weeks, Western leaders have engaged in multiple rounds of high-stakes diplomacy in hopes of defusing the crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron held more than five hours of talks with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday before meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv the next day.
Macron said Putin told him he would not escalate, but also acknowledged it will take time to find a diplomatic solution to the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the war. cold.
He then flew to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish President Andrzej Duda, and they urged Russia to de-escalate and engage in meaningful dialogue on European security.
Macron spoke by phone Wednesday with US President Joe Biden to update him on his meetings in Moscow and Kiev, the White House said, and they discussed ongoing efforts to resolve the crisis through diplomacy and deter Russia.
On Wednesday, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares traveled to Kiev to meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba. Afterwards, Albares reiterated that dialogue and de-escalation should be the priorities. Kuleba called for more sanctions against Russia and said “there is a chance to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means”.
Scholz is expected in Kiev and Moscow on February 14 and 15. He met on Monday with Biden, who promised that the Nord Stream 2 Russia-Germany gas pipeline would be blocked in the event of an invasion. Such action against the gas pipeline, which has been completed but is not yet operational, would harm Russia economically, but would also cause energy supply problems for Germany.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov criticized the United States and its allies for turning Nord Stream 2 “into an instrument of pressure on Moscow” and called recent statements about it a “political circus “.
Japan has decided to divert some of its gas reserves to Europe amid growing concerns about possible supply disruptions due to the crisis, Japan’s economy, trade and commerce minister said. of Industry, Koichi Hagiuda. The decision was taken at the request of the United States and the European Union.
US and European officials have been coordinating with global natural gas suppliers to cushion the impact in case Russia cuts off natural gas supplies.
NATO has also stepped up the deployment of troops to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank.
The United States has begun moving the 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s battering squadron from Vilseck, Germany, to Romania, which borders Ukraine. US officials said they would send around 1,000 NATO troops.
The first troops arrived in Romania in the past 24 hours, the regiment’s commander, Colonel Joe Ewers, said. The troops will reinforce the 900 American soldiers already present in the country.
“We are always ready to respond to any mission required,” he told Vilseck. “But the emphasis will be on training and we will initially partner with several Romanian elements in the region.”
About 1,700 US troops from the 82nd Airborne Division are heading to Poland and about half have now arrived, with more expected to arrive in the coming days, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. Britain has also pledged to send 350 more troops to Poland and has already sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.
US consular services in Poland are preparing for any wave of Americans living in Ukraine who may decide to flee if Russia invades. US troops deployed in Poland have drawn up contingency plans to help Americans fleeing Ukraine via Poland in the event of a Russian attack, according to a White House official who was not authorized to comment.
The State Department continues to urge Americans in Ukraine, including non-essential U.S. Embassy personnel, to leave now.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president was ousted, Moscow annexed Crimea and then backed a separatist insurgency in the east of the country. Fighting between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed more than 14,000 people.
Talks on the separatist dispute will take place on Thursday, when foreign policy advisers from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine – the so-called Norman format – meet in Berlin.
France and Germany helped broker a peace deal, known as the Minsk Accords, which ended large-scale fighting in eastern Ukraine. The agreement, however, failed to bring a political settlement to the conflict, and efforts to resolve it have stalled. The Kremlin has accused Kiev of sabotaging the deal, and Ukrainian officials have said in recent weeks that implementing it would hurt Ukraine.
Some European leaders see talks on the deals as a possible way to ease tensions in the wider crisis.
Scholz spokesman Wolfgang Buechner said on Wednesday that the parties to the talks “reaffirmed their commitment to narrowing the current disagreements with a view to moving forward, and that is what the meeting should focus on. tomorrow”.
“Germany is strongly and tirelessly committed to the Normandy format, where we have a special responsibility and, together with France, we make a very special contribution to the attempt to de-escalate the situation in and around Ukraine,” he said. declared.
Litvinova reported from Moscow. Aamer Madhani and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Christoph Noelting in Vilseck, Germany and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed.