Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow has "run out of patience" with the West and expects a written response to its demands for security guarantees within a week after diplomatic talks with NATO and the United States failed to make headway on the issue amid a buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.
Diplomats have offered a dire assessment of a week of high-level diplomacy that included bilateral talks between Washington and Moscow, and separate rounds of discussions with NATO and the the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) against the backdrop of Western concerns that Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's doorstep may be a prelude to an invasion.
Speaking at his annual foreign policy news conference on January 14, Lavrov said the Kremlin wouldn’t wait indefinitely for the Western response to Moscow’s demands that NATO neither expand nor deploy forces to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states, which the Kremlin has said were key to diplomatic efforts to defuse soaring tensions over Ukraine.
“We have run out of patience,” Lavrov said at the news conference.
Washington and its allies have firmly rejected Moscow's demand for security guarantees precluding NATO's expansion and warned of "massive consequences" if Russia renews its aggression against Ukraine. U.S. officials have cast Russia's combative rhetoric and buildup of some 100,000 troops near Ukraine as a pressure tactic and said that the United States, while open to dialogue, will never submit to blackmail or allow such threats to be rewarded.
NATO has also stated clearly that it would not compromise on core principles, including the right for sovereign nations to decide what kinds of security arrangements they want to be part of.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said earlier this week that no alliance member was willing to budge on NATO's open-door policy, while reiterating a commitment to meaningful reciprocal dialogue with Russia.
Lavrov said Russia, too, wants the standoff over security in Europe to be resolved with mutual respect and a balance of interests, but has warned it will consider various options to respond if the West spurns Russia's security proposals.
The White House has said that the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remains high and on January 14 announced it had intelligence suggesting Russia had sent saboteurs into eastern Ukraine to stage an incident that could be used as a pretext to justify an invasion in the event its demands in negotiations are not met. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the assessment was based on "unfounded" information.
Lavrov’s comments came hours after Kyiv reported a massive cyberattack on several government websites.
"Some say the cyberattack could be the prelude for other activities, military activities," Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters at a meeting of the bloc's top diplomats in the French city of Brest.
The standoff with Russia "is serious, more serious than anything we've seen in recent years," Schallenberg added.
Referring to the cyberattack on Ukraine, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde added that this is "exactly the kind of thing that we have warned of and that we are afraid of.”
"If there are attacks against Ukraine, we will be very harsh and very strong and robust in our response," Linde said.
Despite the increased tensions, Russia and the West have agreed to leave the door open to possible further talks on arms control and confidence-building measures intended to reduce the potential for hostilities.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on January 14 that she will travel to Moscow next week for talks over the Ukraine crisis, even though she admitted a quick solution is unlikely to be found.
"It is a characteristic of diplomacy in a crisis that it takes a lot of persistence, patience and strong nerves ... This is why it is so important to intensively make use of varying channels of communications," she said from an informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers in the French port city of Brest.
In related news, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on January 14 that troops stationed in eastern Siberia and the Far East region have been scrambled for movement across the country as part of snap drills to check their “readiness to perform their tasks after redeployment to a large distance.”
The ministry noted that “special attention will be given to the assessment of the country's transport infrastructure to ensure the movement of troops,” adding that the troops will conduct drills involving firing live ammunition after the redeployment.
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and supported separatist clashes in Ukraine’s east after anti-government protests toppled Ukraine's Russia-friendly former president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014.
Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists who control parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014.