The Kremlin warned on Thursday that there was “not much reason to be optimistic” that the West would meet Russia’s demands in the clash against Ukraine, but said the president Vladimir V. Putin would take his time to study the written responses that the United States and NATO submitted a day earlier before deciding how to proceed.
“All these papers are with the president,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, told reporters. “It will of course take some time to analyze them – we will not rush to conclusions.”
Mr. Peskov did not discuss the content of the responses, which the United States has requested be kept confidential. But he said that based on public remarks about them by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, there was little chance the West would offer any concessions on Russia’s central demands.
“There’s not much reason to be optimistic,” Peskov said, responding to a question about whether Russia would be happy with Western responses. “But I would continue to refrain from making concept assessments.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov issued a similar negative note, stating in comments published on his ministry’s website that the US document contained “no positive reaction” to Russia’s main demands.
The comments by Russian officials came against the backdrop of Russian troop buildups near Ukraine and hours after a shooting at a Ukrainian missile factory overnight served as a reminder of the fragile military situation on the ground. There was no immediate evidence that the shooting was linked to rising military tensions in the area.
As Western fears grew over a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow last month released a list of demands that would involve NATO withdrawing its troops from Eastern Europe and pledging never to authorize Ukraine’s accession. Russia requested a written response, which the United States and NATO submitted on Wednesday.
Lavrov said that while the US response included initiatives that could serve as a “start of a serious conversation”, there was no sign of progress on Russia’s priority to reduce NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe. He said consultations between Russian government officials would be followed by a briefing to Mr Putin, who “will decide our next steps”.
Mr Putin, who has been publicly silent on the Ukraine crisis since December, visited a cemetery in St Petersburg on Thursday to mark the 78th anniversary of the end of the Nazi siege of Leningrad, during which the brother of Mr Putin died as a child. State television showed brief footage of Mr Putin, dressed in a black overcoat, placing flowers on a wreath in the snow. Mr. Peskov said the president had not planned any other public events.
For now, officials on all sides say there is still a chance for diplomacy to resolve the crisis.
Senior Ukrainian and Russian officials met in person in Paris for eight hours on Wednesday in a session mediated by France and Germany. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday described the talks as a positive development, but stressed the importance of respecting the ceasefire in the region of eastern Ukraine known as Donbass, where violence occasionally erupts in a long-simmering conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.
“For our country, the first priority at this time is to achieve stable and unconditional calm in the Donbass,” he said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Aleksei Zaytsev, said another meeting scheduled in Berlin in two weeks could identify “solutions to the problems that have been accumulating for seven years”. And he reiterated the insistence of Russian officials that their country had no intention of attacking Ukraine.
“We consider it unacceptable to even think of a war between our peoples,” Zaytsev said, according to the Interfax news agency.
But analysts say it is very likely that Mr Putin’s diplomats do not know exactly what their president is planning. The Kremlin is seeking to rewrite Europe’s post-Cold War order to give Russia a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe – which Mr Putin says is essential to Russia’s long-term security. Russia. Mr Putin has threatened unspecified “military-technical” measures if the West does not accede to Russia’s demands.