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U.S. Says Kremlin Aggression Against Ukraine Will Lead To More NATO Forces Near Russia


Ukrainian soldiers dig trenches near a frontline position in eastern Ukraine. (file photo)
Ukrainian soldiers dig trenches near a frontline position in eastern Ukraine. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- The United States has sought to deter Russia from invading Ukraine, saying such an action would lead to punishing Western sanctions while forcing NATO to increase military aid to Kyiv and put more forces closer to Moscow.

“If Russia goes ahead with what may be under way, we and our allies are prepared to impose severe costs that would damage Russia's economy and bring about exactly what it says it does not want -- more NATO capabilities, not less, closer to Russia, not further away,” a senior U.S. administration official said in a briefing on December 23.

Russia has massed about 100,000 combat-ready troops near its border with Ukraine in what the United States has called a possible prelude to an invasion, something the Kremlin denies it is contemplating.

The military buildup may be an attempt to pressure Ukraine and the West to agree to Moscow’s recently publicized demands for sweeping security guarantees, analysts have said. Those demands include an end to NATO’s eastward expansion and cooperation with former Soviet states currently not part of the alliance, such as Ukraine and Georgia.

The senior administration official said the United States was ready to engage in talks with Russia in early January regarding its demand for security guarantees -- including bilaterally as well as through NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)..

However, the official reiterated that some of Russia’s demands are unacceptable. The official also said that any dialogue “must be based on reciprocity” and that the West will raise its own concerns about Russian actions.

Russia’s demands essentially call for a "sphere of influence" for Moscow in its near abroad, including veto power over the foreign policy choices of its neighbors. Ukraine and Georgia have said they want to join NATO to protect themselves from possible Russian aggression.

The senior U.S. official laid out principles for the talks that are diametrically opposed to those demands.

“Our view is that negotiations should start from the baseline … which underscore territorial integrity, borders not being changed by force, and respect for the sovereignty and sovereign decision-making of countries,” the official said.

The official said no concrete date or location has been agreed to yet on the U.S.-Russia talks.

Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the meeting would be held in Geneva next month.

During his annual conference with journalists on December 23, Putin demanded that the West provide Russia with security guarantees “without any delay.”

Putin Says Russia's Actions Toward Ukraine Depend On 'Unconditional' Security Guarantees
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He also repeated past Kremlin assertions that the United States had placed missile systems on Russia’s border.

The senior U.S. official declined to speculate about what missiles Putin was referring to.

The U.S. official also declined to comment on what type of military aid the West would give to Ukraine and what kind of sanctions it would impose on Russia in the event of an invasion, saying it preferred to negotiate behind closed doors.

“We don't plan to negotiate in public. It does not strike us as constructive or a way that progress has been made in such diplomatic conversations in the past,” the official said.

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    Todd Prince

    Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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