Russia has agreed to the United States’ proposal to hold security talks in January of the new year, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, as the Kremlin continues to escalate tensions with its military buildup on Ukraine’s eastern border.
He said that Moscow wants legally-binding security guarantees that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed to countries that neighbor Russia and for NATO to halt its eastwards expansion.
Russia has handed over a list of detailed security guarantees to Washington that it wants from the West, including a scaling-down of NATO activity in Eastern Europe.
It comes a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said US negotiators hoped to work parallel to NATO Allies in finding ways to de-escalate Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior with the Eastern European nation at the table.
‘We also want to see Russia de-escalate, to move forces back from the border with Ukraine, to take down the tension,’ Blinken had said.
Lavrov said today, ‘It is agreed that at the very start of next year bilateral contact between American negotiators and ours will become the first round (of talks).’
The cooperative tone struck by both chief diplomats is a marked departure from Russia’s inflammatory rhetoric yesterday, when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accused American fighters of working with Ukrainian troops to ‘provoke’ Russia.
‘We have identified the presence of over 120 members of US mercenary groups in the cities of Avdiivka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations,’ government-run news outlet TASS reported Shoigu as saying.
The top Putin ally claimed there were ‘tanks filled with unidentified chemical components were delivered to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman,’ again to ‘commit provocations.’
During a Tuesday Defense Ministry meeting Shoigu stunningly accused the US of ‘building up its military presence at Russian borders.’
The Pentagon has denied these allegations.
US President Joe Biden has ruled out the possibility of US troops in Ukraine to unilaterally confront Russia. However there is a small presence of several hundred American National Guard members in Ukraine solely to train the former Soviet country’s military.
As recently as today the State Department told AFP that ‘Russia continues escalating and has not reversed its troop buildup.’
The Ukrainian government said there were as many as 120,000 Russian soldiers at its doorstep earlier this month.
Officials in Kyiv have been sounding the alarm over Putin rapidly increasing his military presence at the country’s eastern border, begging Western Allies for help and claiming an invasion could be imminent
The Kremlin has denied those claims but threatened Ukraine and the West it would retaliate if it felt Russia’s national security could be compromised.
In 2014 Russia was rebuked by the global community for its illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, in apparent retaliation for Ukraine’s growing closeness with the West following a revolution that saw its pro-Putin government overturned in favor of democratically-elected leaders.
Lawmakers in Congress responded to Russia’s latest provocation by increasing the amount of military aid to Ukraine in next year’s national defense budget.
Some of the strengthened provisions in the 2022 defense budget to keep Russia in check includes a prohibition on using any US funds ‘for any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea.’
Congress also added an additional $50 million to the $250 million the bill was already allocating toward the former Soviet satellite country.
At least $75 million of that will have to be spent on ‘defensive lethal capabilities,’ the bill dictates.
In addition the economic Group of 7 partnership, NATO, the European Union and the US have all issued public condemnations and urged Russia to fall back or face harsh economic sanctions and a possible expulsion from the SWIFT global banking system.
Putin, clearly alarmed by the moves, vowed on Tuesday to take military-based ‘reciprocal measures’ if the US and NATO didn’t cease their ‘aggressive line.’
But today, Lavrov said Russia had presented American officials with a document concerning US-Russia relations and that foreign policy aides to Putin and Biden had agreed to further work.
Moscow wanted to discuss a second document it had presented, a draft agreement between Russia and NATO countries, after the first meeting, but also in January, Lavrov said.
Some of the security guarantees Russia is looking for are for NATO to halt its eastward expansion, including to Ukraine, as well as the organization abandoning its military activity in Ukraine, Georgia and other countries that were once part of the former Soviet Union.
Putin and Biden met for roughly two hours via video chat earlier this month, during which the American president pushed Putin to de-escalate tensions at the Ukrainian border.