Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not give an indication that Moscow will de-escalate from the border with Ukraine in a call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken Tuesday, a senior State Department official said following the latest diplomatic effort between the two sides amid the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The official said the phone conversation between the two top diplomats lasted about 30 minutes and they described the tone as “professional and fairly candid.”
The call between Blinken and Lavrov came one day after a tense UN Security Council meeting where the US and Russia traded accusations over Moscow’s escalations on the Ukrainian border, where Russia has massed thousands of troops.
Blinken told Lavrov that if Russian President Vladimir Putin “does not intend war or regime change,” then it was time to pull back troops and heavy weaponry and engage in serious, diplomatic discussions, the official said.
Lavrov responded that the escalation that the US was claiming was not occurring, the official said, but that it was merely Russia moving troops within its own borders. Blinken raised Russia’s troops buildup in Belarus – which US officials said could reach 30,000 by early February – but there was not an “extensive” exchange on it, according to the official.
Blinken reiterated the US commitment to pursuing diplomacy, officials and State Department spokesman Ned Price said, and the two top diplomats agreed they should speak again after the US receives a formal written reply from Moscow, which Putin would review.
In Moscow Tuesday alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Putin made his first public comments in weeks, saying that the written responses from the West had “ignored” Russia’s main security concerns.
Russia has demanded that NATO commit to never admitting Ukraine and that NATO countries pull back troops and military equipment from Eastern European countries admitted to NATO since 1997, including Romania and Bulgaria. The US and NATO have said these demands violate NATO’s open-door policy and are non-starters in negotiations with Moscow.
According to Price’s written readout of the call, Blinken “further reiterated the US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the right of all countries to determine their own foreign policy and alliances.”
At a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Price did not respond to any specific remarks made by Putin, while saying that the US remains focused on the formal response from the Kremlin that will be coming in a matter of days or weeks.
“We heard from President Putin a variety of things. I will leave it to the Kremlinologists out there, budding, professional, amateur or otherwise, to read the tea leaves and try to interpret the significance of those remarks,” Price said. “For our part, we don’t necessarily need to do that because we know that a formal response from the Russian Federation is forthcoming. We heard that again today from Foreign Minister Lavrov.”