Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the US had “ignored” Moscow’s concerns about the West’s stance toward Ukraine, shortly after Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that the Kremlin must withdraw its troops from its western border and reiterated the threat of “swift and severe consequences” if Russia invades.
In his first public comments about the crisis since the end of last year, Putin claimed the Ukraine standoff was an “instrument” for the US to achieve its goal to “contain Russia’s development.”
“It can be done in different ways, such as pulling us into some armed conflict and then forcing their allies in Europe to enact those harsh sanctions against us that are being discussed today in the United States,” the Russian leader said at a news conference alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Tuesday morning, Blinken spoke to Lavrov to follow up on the American response to security guarantees demanded by the Russian government — which include barring Ukraine or other former Soviet satellites from becoming NATO members, as well as pulling back Western forces stationed in Eastern Europe after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
The US formally delivered its written response to the Russian government last week after describing the demands as a “non-starter.”
The State Department said Tuesday that Blinken offered “to continue a substantive exchange with Russia on mutual security concerns” while reiterating that Ukraine has the right to determine its “own foreign policy and alliances.”
Lavrov said Russia’s foreign and defense ministries are still working on its response to the US, which will be sent to Putin for review before it is transmitted to Washington. The two diplomats agreed to speak again once that happens.
Senior State Department officials described the call to the Associated Press as professional and “fairly candid,” noting that Lavrov restated Russia’s insistence that it has no plans to invade Ukraine, leading Blinken to reply that if Putin didn’t really intend to invade Ukraine, Russia should withdraw its troops.
Putin said during his news conference Tuesday that “the principal Russian concerns turned out to be ignored” by Washington.
Unlike in December, when Putin threatened unspecified “military-technical” measures at a year-end news conference if the West did not meet Russia’s demands, he appeared to leave the door open for ongoing diplomacy.
“I hope that eventually we will find this solution though it’s not easy, we understand that,” Putin said. “But to talk today about what that will be — I am, of course, not ready to do that.”
Despite Hungary having been a member of NATO since 1999, Orban has forged close ties to Putin, saying Tuesday that “I have high hopes that for many years to come we can work together.”
“This is our 13th meeting. That is a rarity,” said Orban, who has led Hungary since 2010. “Practically all those who were my colleagues in the EU are no longer.”
“My visit today is also a kind of peace mission. I would like to reassure you that none of the leaders of the European Union and its member nations want a war or conflicts,” Orban added to the Russian leader. “We call for political solutions and mutually beneficial agreements.”
Hungarian Defense Minister Tibor Benko echoed those sentiments on Tuesday, saying the sides should not engage in “Cold War rhetoric.”
“There’s no need for 1,000 NATO soldiers to come to Hungary and be stationed here permanently,” he said. “No one wants to create a situation where people are afraid and worried by showing off their forces.”