(Update 1: adds US warning to China, minor edits, changes headline, lede)
Washington, Jan 26 (EFE).- The United States and NATO on Wednesday formally responded to Russia’s demand for security guarantees in Europe, offering to continue engaging in diplomacy but warning Moscow that it will face “serious consequences” if it opts to stage a new invasion of Ukraine.
Amid the escalating tensions due to the concentration of Russian troops on its border with Ukraine, both Washington and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sent their separate written responses to the Kremlin within the time period established last week.
The US message was delivered in Moscow by the Washington’s ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, at the Russian Foreign Ministry.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a press conference that the document specifies the concerns of the US and its allies about Russian actions to undermine security as well as an evaluation of the concerns expressed by Moscow.
Now the ball is in the Russian court, Blinken remarked, adding that Moscow must decide whether or not to choose the path of diplomacy or confrontation.
Without going into details about the content of the letter, Blinken did reiterate that Washington had rejected the Russian demand that it ban Kiev from ever joining NATO.
He also said that Washington was ready to work together with Moscow on a proposal for “reciprocal transparency” about military movements and to agree on arms control measures in the region.
Blinken said that the message sets forth a serious diplomatic path, if Russia chooses to follow it, but he also insisted that the US is prepared to impose sanctions on Russia that would have “serious consequences” if Moscow opts to pursue an attack on Ukraine.
He also said that he expects to have a conversation “in the coming days” with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to discuss the Russian position.
Russia had demanded security guarantees including halting any further expansion of NATO, in particular banning Ukraine and/or Georgia from joining the alliance, halting all Western military cooperation with now-independent countries that were once part of the defunct Soviet Union and withdrawing NATO troops and weaponry to the positions they occupied before 1997.
Shortly after Blinken made his remarks, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that he had also responded to Russia in a manner that paralleled Washington’s response.
Meanwhile, Blinken warned his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi late on Wednesday of the global “risks” of a Russian invasion.
According to the Kremlin, China has expressed support for Moscow’s demands for security guarantees to prevent NATO expansion.
“Blinken underscored the global security and economic risks posed by further Russian aggression against Ukraine and conveyed that de-escalation and diplomacy are the responsible way forward,” the State Department reported of the telephone conversation.
The call came a week before Chinese President Xi Jinping holds a summit in Beijing with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 4, taking advantage of Putin’s attendance at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
While diplomatic efforts are ongoing, Washington continues to prepare for a confrontational scenario by delivering more military material to Kiev and recommending that its citizens in Ukraine leave the country due to the risk of invasion, which would presumably involve heavy and highly destructive fighting.
Moscow is maintaining more than 100,000 troops at different spots along its border with Ukraine, something that US intelligence agencies say could point to an imminent attack on the neighboring country.
On Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that reports indicate that a potential Russian attack on Ukraine could come any time between now and mid-February. EFE