Putin discusses tensions in Ukraine with visiting Hungarian PM
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed tensions over Ukraine with his visiting Hungarian counterpart on Tuesday, a day after Russian and U.S. diplomats traded sharp accusations at the UN Security Council.
The Kremlin is seeking legally binding guarantees from the United States and NATO that Ukraine will never join the bloc, that the deployment of NATO weapons near Russia’s borders will be halted, and that the forces of the alliance will be withdrawn from Eastern Europe.
The demands, rejected by NATO and the United States as non-starters, come amid fears that Russia could invade Ukraine, fueled by the buildup of around 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders. . Talks between Russia and the West have so far yielded no progress.
All eyes were on Putin as he welcomed Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to the Kremlin, telling the Hungarian leader he would brief him on talks with the West over Russia’s security demands. Putin has not spoken on the issue since late December. Orban, in turn, stressed that no European leader wants a war in the region.
Washington provided Moscow with a written response to Russia’s demands, and on Monday three Biden administration officials said the Russian government had sent a written response to the US proposals. A State Department official declined to provide details, saying it “would be counterproductive to negotiate in public” and that Washington would leave it to Russia to discuss the counter-proposal.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Tuesday that was “not true”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters there had been “confusion” and that Russia’s response to the US proposals is still in the works and will be formulated by Putin.
RIA Novosty quoted an unnamed senior Russian Foreign Ministry diplomat as saying that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had sent letters to his Western colleagues, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, about the “principle of ‘indivisibility of security’ contained in an international document signed by all members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Russia has argued that NATO’s eastward expansion has harmed Russia’s security, violating the principle that one nation’s security should not be enhanced at the expense of others.
On Monday, Russia accused the West of “stirring up tensions” over Ukraine and said the United States had brought “pure Nazis” to power in Kiev as the Security Council UN was holding a heated debate on the reinforcement of the troops of Moscow close to its southern neighbor.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield retorted that Russia’s growing military strength along Ukraine’s borders was “the biggest mobilization” in Europe in decades, adding that there had been an upsurge in cyberattacks and Russian disinformation.
The tough exchanges at the Security Council came after Moscow lost an attempt to block the meeting and reflected the rift between the two nuclear powers. It was the first public session where all the protagonists of the Ukrainian crisis spoke publicly, even if the most powerful organ of the UN did nothing.
Meanwhile, high-level diplomacy continued on Tuesday.
Lavrov and Blinken were due to have a phone call, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki traveled to Kyiv to show his support, promising to deliver more weapons to Ukraine, including man-portable air defense systems, drones, mortars and ammunition.
He noted that Russia’s neighbors felt like they were living “next to a volcano”.
Morawiecki criticized Germany for considering certification of the newly built Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that would transport Russian natural gas to German consumers bypassing transit countries of Ukraine and Poland.
“You cannot express your solidarity with Ukraine while working on the certification of Nord Stream 2,” said the Polish Prime Minister. “By allowing the pipeline to launch, Berlin would be giving Putin a weapon he could then use to blackmail all of Europe.”
Zelenskyy said Ukraine would forge a new trilateral political alliance with Britain and Poland, hailing it as a reflection of strong international support for Ukraine.
Ukraine’s president on Tuesday signed a decree expanding the country’s army by 100,000 troops, raising the total number to 350,000 over the next three years and increasing army salaries.
Zelenskyy, who in recent days has sought to calm the nation over fears of an impending invasion, said on Tuesday he signed “this decree not because of a war”.
“This decree is for there to be peace soon and further down the line,” the president said.
The executive order ended conscription from January 1, 2024, and outlined plans to hire 100,000 soldiers over the next three years.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Aamer Madhani and Matthew Lee in Washington, and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.