US rejects key Russian security demand as Ukraine tensions soar

Nato ‘prepared for the worst’ as Kremlin warns of ‘military-technical’ response

The United States has delivered written replies to sweeping Russian security demands, a key step in a fragile diplomatic process as Russia staged new military drills on land and sea near Ukraine. Video: C-Span

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The US and Nato have rejected Russia’s demand that Ukraine and other nations be barred from ever joining the military alliance, but urged Moscow to continue talks on a political solution to defuse soaring tensions in eastern Europe.

The West fears Russia is planning a new, bigger invasion of Ukraine amid a build-up of more than 100,000 troops and powerful weaponry to the north, south and east of its neighbour, which one day hopes to join the European Union and Nato.

The Kremlin has warned that it will respond with “military-technical” means if it is not satisfied with the West’s response to a long list of security concerns that centre on a demand that Nato close its doors to new members and pull out of eastern Europe.

‘Sovereignty’

“We make clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Wednesday after the US and Nato gave written responses to Russia.

“We will uphold the principle of Nato’s open door,” he said.

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Mr Blinken said the document “sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it”.

“The ball is in their court,” he said.

In Brussels, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance and Russia were “far apart” on key issues but a political solution was “still possible”.

“Of course while we are hoping for and working for a good solution – de-escalation – we are also prepared for the worst,” he added.

Personal sanctions

The Kremlin says it is not planning to invade Ukraine and warned on Wednesday that a US threat to impose personal sanctions on president Vladimir Putin would be “politically destructive”.

Meanwhile, the ESB has confirmed that a “significant” amount of the coal used at its Moneypoint, Co Clare power station is sourced from Russia. This reliance was raised at Cabinet this week as a potential issue should tensions over the Ukraine situation escalate. The company is understood to be factoring in the possibility of sanctions as it reviews its options for sourcing fuel.

A number of large Russian warships have been spotted sailing in the direction of Ireland ahead of a planned naval exercise some 130 nautical miles off the coast of Cork next month.

Military experts believe the flotilla, seen by the Norwegian Air Force, will take part in the drills in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Russia should call off the planned exercises, saying it would “demonstrate goodwill” that they wanted to de-escalate tensions at a time of concern over a potential war in Ukraine.