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10 Feb, 2022 11:40

Russia's Lavrov unhappy after talks with UK's Truss

Moscow’s top diplomat hit out at a lack of mutual understanding following negotiations with his British counterpart
Russia's Lavrov unhappy after talks with UK's Truss

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has expressed frustration at the lack of progress made during high-stakes negotiations with his British counterpart, Liz Truss, as tensions between Moscow and the West continue to flare over Ukraine.

Speaking to journalists at a press conference following the talks in the Russian capital on Thursday, Lavrov said that the exchange had been “like a deaf person talking to a mute,” and that the sides had struggled to find common ground. “Nobody is hearing each other, and unfortunately our efforts to explain ourselves have not been heard.”

Truss used the meeting to urge the Kremlin “to take the path of diplomacy” and argued that “a war in Ukraine would be disastrous for the Russian and Ukrainian people and for European security.”

Lavrov hit back, however, saying that “we have sued for diplomacy for all these years and we will continue to do so.” According to him, “Russia has been cheated and wronged for many years, many times, when it comes to agreements and obligations from other states.”

London has sounded the alarm repeatedly in recent weeks, warning that a buildup of Russian troops along the shared frontier with Ukraine could be a prelude to a full-blown invasion. Truss doubled down on threats of sanctions, saying that were Moscow to order an offensive, the response from Western nations would cripple the country’s economy.

“Russia must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, as Russia freely signed up to do in the 1994 Budapest memorandum,” Truss told Lavrov. “If these principles are respected, I believe that in today’s talks, we can make progress to strengthen security for all.”

The Russian foreign minister reiterated Moscow’s position that it has no aggressive intentions in the region: “Some are saying we’re waiting for the ground to freeze in Ukraine so that Russians tanks can move forward, well, this is the frozen ground between us and our British counterparts. Either our counterparts aren’t aware of the facts, or they’re ignoring them,” he went on.

He also hit out at Truss’ suggestion, raised by journalists, that Moscow is seeking to “threaten” its neighbor by amassing a reported 100,000 troops close to the border. “We don’t want to threaten anyone,” he insisted. “We’re the ones being threatened!”

At the same time, the veteran envoy said that decisions by the UK and US to withdraw diplomatic staff and their families from Kiev over fears of a conflict were without foundation. “Now we’re thinking maybe the UK or US is planning something as they’re advising their staff to leave.”

Western leaders have cited intelligence reports in recent weeks as confirming that Moscow could be set to strike Ukraine in the near future, with joint military exercises being held between Russia and Belarus kicking off this week. Moscow maintains that it has a right to position its forces how it likes within its own territory.

President Vladimir Putin has called for security guarantees that would effectively bar Ukraine from joining NATO, a step which has consistently been positioned as a red line for Russia. Negotiators from Washington and the US-led military bloc have rejected the demand, but they have proposed other measures for de-escalation in the region, including increased transparency about military plans.

The US and UK, together with a number of European allies, have threatened massive economic sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion, including measures that could target the nation’s energy sector, sparking fears of a worldwide spike in fuel prices.

This week, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Putin in Moscow and with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev to attempt to find a resolution to the crisis. After his meeting with the Russian leader, Macron told journalists, “My aim was to freeze the game, to prevent an escalation and open up new perspectives,” adding that, “this objective for me is fulfilled.” The Kremlin, however, denies any deal was done and insists France is not in a position to broker an agreement without the buy-in of the US.