The U.S. has delivered its reply to recent Russian demands for sweeping security guarantees, including a withdrawal of NATO forces from Eastern Europe and hard assurances that Ukraine will never join NATO.
In parallel, NATO delivered its own written response to a separate set of demands that the Russians had made to the alliance.
Moscow issued its demands in the form of proposed security â€œtreatiesâ€ following an outcry by the U.S. and other Western powers over a huge Russian military mobilization on the Ukrainian border involving upwards of 100,000 troops as well as tanks, artillery and other sophisticated weaponry.
While the contents of the Western responses were not released, senior leaders have been clear they will not negotiate on Russiaâ€™s core demands even if they are willing to discuss other concerns. On Wednesday night, officials also made an effort to display a united front amid ongoing disagreements among allies over exactly how â€” and when â€”Â to punish Russia in case of an invasion.
â€œOur responses were fully coordinated with Ukraine and our European allies and partners,â€ U.S. Secretary of Antony Blinken said in remarks. But, he noted, â€œweâ€™re not releasing the document publicly.â€
NATOâ€™s responses were similarly done â€œin parallel with the United States,â€ NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in separate remarks from Brussels.
Stoltenberg, U.S. President Joe Biden and other senior officials have described most of the Russian demands as â€œnon-starters.â€
In particular, they have insisted that only Ukraine and NATO will decide on its future potential membership in the alliance. Western officials have also said that if Russia wants to discuss its requests, it needs to answer Western concerns about Russiaâ€™s actions in recent years, including its invasion and annexation of Crimea, its role in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine and its use of chemical weapons against political opponents.
At his news conference, Stoltenberg called for restoring diplomatic channels between the alliance and Russia that have broken down in recent years, including the restoration of Russiaâ€™s diplomatic representation to NATO in Brussels and the reopening of NATOâ€™s office in Moscow, which Russia shut down.
Stoltenberg said NATO allies were willing to hear the Kremlinâ€™s concerns and requests but emphasized that the West had its own demands. He called on Russia to withdraw its military forces in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which he said were stationed in those countries â€œwithout consent.â€ He also called for full compliance with international conventions on biological and chemical weapons.
On the question of Ukraineâ€™s future membership, Stoltenberg suggested there was no willingness to give Russia any say. â€œWhat we have made clear is that we will not compromise on some core principles,â€ he said. â€œThis is about respecting nations and their right to choose their own path.â€
The responses had been highly anticipated, even if the content was not likely to be a major surprise. The delivery was seen as the next step in the high-stakes standoff between Russia and Western allies over its troop presence near Ukraine.
The Russian newspaper, Kommersant, reported that U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered the U.S. written response Wednesday evening to the offices of Russiaâ€™s Foreign Ministry. A photo showed him arriving wearing a black facemask. A videoÂ posted by the Russian news site RIA Novosti showed Sullivan exiting the Foreign Ministry building amid snow flurries and departing in a black SUV without responding to a reporterâ€™s question.
Blinken said the U.S. reply was unequivocal about several principles, including the right of nations, like Ukraine, to choose their own alliances.
But he also noted the document mentioned areas where the two countries â€œmay be able to find common ground,â€ including arms control, nuclear treaties and transparency measures.
â€œWeâ€™re open to dialogue,â€ he said. â€œWe prefer diplomacy.â€Â
Stoltenberg acknowledged that the risk of conflict remained serious but said Western allies were holding out hope Russia would choose a diplomatic path.
â€œThereâ€™s no secret that we are far apart, and there are serious differences between NATO and Russia,â€ he said.
Shortly before news broke about the responses, Pope FrancisÂ posted on TwitterÂ urging prayers of peace for Ukraine.Â Â Â
â€œMay the prayers that today rise up to heaven touch the minds and hearts of world leaders,â€ he tweeted.
Paul McLeary contributed reporting from Washington, D.C., and Lili Bayer contributed reporting from Brussels.