Gulf Between Russia and West Laid Bare in Response to Moscow’s Ukraine Demands

MOSCOW—The gap between Russia and the West over the future of Ukraine and security in Europe was laid bare as details of two bluntly worded responses delivered to Moscow last week were made public showing the U.S. and NATO flatly rejected the Kremlin’s demands and instead laid the blame for the tension squarely on Russian President

Vladimir Putin.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Putin had demanded written guarantees that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization wouldn’t expand east to include the country and that it halt the deployment of additional forces to other former Soviet states. He has described his demands as core security concerns for Russia as the monthslong standoff continues.

But the U.S. and NATO firmly rejected the Russian leader’s position, infuriating Mr. Putin, in a pair of letters hand-delivered to the Kremlin on Jan. 26 and published by a Spanish newspaper.

“We firmly believe that tensions and disagreements be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, and not through the threat of the use of force,” according to copies of responses and accompanying attachments published in El Pais and confirmed by an European Union official as authentic. “Considering the substantial, unprovoked, unjustified and ongoing Russian military buildup in and around Ukraine and in Belarus, we call on Russia to immediately de-escalate the situation in a verifiable, timely, and lasting manner.”

The U.S. also said it continues to “firmly support NATO’s Open Door Policy,” though added that it is willing to continue negotiations with Russia “in good faith and with the goal of improving Euro-Atlantic security.”

Washington has been warning for weeks that the mobilizing of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine is likely the prelude to an invasion, eight years on from its last incursion in 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and ignited a separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine. Russia has denied that it intends to overrun Ukraine, instead insisting that the buildup of forces is a response to what it says is the threat posed by NATO forces gathered in countries near Russia’s western borders.

There continues to be little common ground between the two sides.

In its letter to Russia, the U.S. said that NATO poses no threat to Russia and accused Moscow of breaking “the trust at the core of our cooperation” and of challenging “the fundamental principles of the global and Euro-Atlantic security architecture.” Washington has also outlined a series of punitive sanctions it would impose if Russia encroaches on Ukraine, stepped-up shipments of military assistance to Kyiv and put thousands of soldiers on alert to defend NATO’s eastern flank in the event of a conflict.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint news conference with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday.



Photo:

Yuri Kochetkov/Associated Press

Mr. Putin on Tuesday said the U.S. and its European allies had “basically ignored” Moscow’s demands. “We didn’t see an adequate response to our key concerns,” Mr. Putin told reporters Tuesday at a Kremlin press conference, following a meeting with Hungary’s Prime Minister

Viktor Orban.

Still, both Moscow and Washington said they are willing to continue discussions. In their letters, the U.S. and NATO said that in consultation with its allies and partners, Washington would be willing to discuss measures to increase mutual trust regarding significant ground exercises in Europe, and remained open to negotiations over meaningful arms control, raising the prospect of new limits on missiles.

“Our aim is to achieve concrete and reciprocally beneficial outcomes,” the letter said, but it warned that “the reversal of Russia’s military buildup in and around Ukraine will be essential for substantive progress.”

Neither the Kremlin nor Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs would comment on the authenticity of the document.

Moscow hasn’t sent a written reply to the U.S.’s response to its demands. Presidential spokesman

Dmitry Peskov

told reporters Wednesday that the Kremlin leader had spoken the previous day “with very restrained optimism and hope about the possibility of resolving the problem of security guarantees for Russia through diplomatic negotiation.”

In a letter to his counterparts in the U.S., Canada and a number of European countries, Russia’s Foreign Minister

Sergei Lavrov

 said the responses from the U.S. and NATO to Russia “testify to significant differences in the understanding of the principle of equal and indivisible security fundamental to the entire European security architecture.” A copy of his letter was posted on the foreign ministry’s website.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said responses from the U.S. and NATO to Moscow ‘testify to significant differences in the understanding of the principle of equal and indivisible security’.



Photo:

/Associated Press

Mr. Lavrov said that for there to be a prospect of continued dialogue, Russia felt it was necessary to clarify the Charter for European Security, signed at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Istanbul in November 1999.

He said that the agreement underscored the “right of each participating state to freely choose or change the way of ensuring its security, including union treaties, as they evolve.”

“It also states that no state, group of states or organization can be vested with primary responsibility for maintaining peace and stability in the OSCE region or consider any part of it as its sphere of influence,” Mr. Lavrov said.

The Russian foreign minister said Western countries continued to extract only the positions they needed, “namely, the right of states to freely choose alliances to ensure exclusively their own security.”

Fighter jets in the U.K. were sent to escort four Russian military aircraft through international airspace, Britain’s Royal Air Force said Wednesday. The Typhoon fighters accompanied two long-range Russian bombers and two maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the air force said.

Russian bombers didn’t enter U.K. sovereign airspace, the RAF said. The RAF regularly intercepts Russian aircraft that enter the U.K.’s controlled zone in international airspace. In the past the RAF has said these Russian aircraft don’t communicate with U.K. air-traffic control, making them a hazard to other aircraft.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that NATO and the U.S. had failed to address Russia’s demands to receive legally binding security guarantees in its formal response to Moscow delivered last week. Photo: Yuri Kochetkov/AFP/Getty Images

Write to Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com

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