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Russia is mulling over the U.S. response to its demands on Ukraine and NATO


The United States and Russia are talking slowly. Both parts of that are important - that they're talking and that a slow rhythm of statements and responses may offer time to work out a solution to the crisis over Ukraine. Yesterday, the United States gave a written response to Russian demands, including one that Ukraine must never join NATO. Of course, Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine. We begin our coverage with NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Hey there, Charles.


INSKEEP: OK, so we don't know the text of the U.S. response, but we're pretty sure the U.S. didn't give in to that main Russian demand. How is Russia taking it?

MAYNES: Well, the Kremlin spokesman today said the U.S. responses didn't give much cause for optimism, but he said it was too soon to rush to conclusions. We also heard from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He said Russia was studying the American answers, but he sounded a pretty skeptical note.


SERGEY LAVROV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: So Lavrov says that when it came to the main Russian demands regarding NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and Ukraine, there was nothing positive in the U.S. response. Lavrov added that some American proposals warranted, quote, "serious discussion," but they were of a secondary nature. And, you know, that seems to be a reference to suggestions outlined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday, in which Blinken said the two sides could meet halfway on issues such as arms control or general risk reduction. But, you know, those are important issues, but clearly not the big-ticket items Moscow is after.

INSKEEP: Well, what happens now, then?

MAYNES: Well, you know, Blinken says the ball is in Russia's court, and that means it's in Russian President Vladimir's - Vladimir Putin's court. You know, Russia's government is so centralized, it really comes down to Putin and whether he is prepared to entertain, you know, some of these compromises that Washington and its allies are offering. You know, does Russia negotiate to get some of what it wants, or does the Kremlin move forward with what Putin has called military technical means now that its main demands appear not to have been met? Now, let's not forget those hundred thousand Russian troops near Ukraine's border. And Russia's been carrying out large-scale exercises all week with them.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note the two foreign ministers - or the secretary of state and the foreign minister - have indicated they intend to talk again. Is there any other sign that diplomacy may continue here?

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, yesterday we also saw France and Germany host officials from Russia and Ukraine in Paris for peace talks focused on the war in East Ukraine. It ended with no progress, but it did have this exception. There was a promise to meet again in two weeks. The next round will be in Berlin. And, you know, interestingly, Blinken also spoke yesterday with China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, who urged all parties involved in the Ukraine crisis to refrain from inflammatory actions. Now, that message comes, of course, as athletes arrive to Beijing for the Olympic Games. And here's what's curious. You know, Putin has said he will join for the opening ceremonies on February 4. And there have been reports - denied by the Kremlin, I should add - that China's leadership has asked Putin not to do anything in Ukraine that would upstage the games. And so, true or not, the fact is they're allies. And, you know, you have to think the Kremlin is at least sensitive to the idea of ruining China's party.

INSKEEP: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow, thanks.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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