Russia is taking threats again: we have nowhere to retreat

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Riabkov Russia has said it will not be able to “confirm or deny” the possibility of Russia sending troops to Latin America unless the United States and its allies restrict its military action at Russia’s borders.

“It all depends on the actions of our American colleagues,” the deputy minister told Russia’s RTVI interview. Riabkov quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as warning that Moscow could take unnamed “military and technical measures” if the United States and its allies did not meet its demands.

But U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he was “bragging out in public commenting” about statements about the possible deployment of Russian forces in Cuba and Venezuela.

Riabkov led a Russian delegation that spoke with US officials on Monday. The talks in Geneva and the related NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels took place in response to a significant concentration of Moscow forces on the border with Ukraine, with the West fearing it could be in preparation for an invasion.

Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, denied having plans to attack a neighboring country. The Kremlin has responded to these Western fears with allegations that NATO is a threat to Russia and demands that the military alliance never grant membership to Ukraine or any of the other former Soviet republics.

Jake’as Sullivanas

© Zuma Press / Scanpix

Washington and its allies have vehemently rejected these demands as non-negotiable this week, but NATO and Russian delegations have agreed to leave the door open for further negotiations on arms control and some other issues to defuse tensions.

Speaking to reporters from Washington, Sullivan said that “allied unity and transatlantic solidarity have been and will continue to be fully demonstrated” through “open and direct” talks with Russia.

“We are firmly committed to our fundamental principle of reciprocity,” said the National Security Adviser. “We are firmly committed to our principles and we are clearly talking about areas where we can make progress, as well as areas that are non-negotiable.”

Mr Sullivan emphasized that no further talks were planned so far, but that “we are ready to continue diplomacy to strengthen security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”.

“We are equally prepared if Russia chooses a different path,” he added. “We continue to work intensively with our partners on austerity measures in response to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine.”

Asked about Riabkov’s statements that Russian forces could be deployed in Latin America, Sullivan said: “I will not respond to boasting in public comment.”

He noted that this issue was not raised during the negotiations this week. According to Sullivan, “if Russia moves in this direction, we would react decisively.”

Last month, Riabkov compared current tensions over the Ukrainian-Russian border with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet Union sent ballistic missiles to a communist island and the United States declared a naval blockade of Cuba.

The crisis came to an end when then-US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed that Moscow would withdraw its missiles in exchange for Washington’s commitment not to attack Cuba, as well as to withdraw US missiles from Turkey.

Putin, seeking to force Western countries to restrict military activity in Eastern Europe, argued that NATO could deploy missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes. He warned that Russia could gain similar capabilities by deploying warships armed with the latest Cirkon hyper-sounding cruise missiles in neutral waters.

When he was first elected in 2000, Putin ordered the closure of a Soviet-era military intelligence complex in Cuba to improve relations with Washington. In recent years, however, Moscow has sought to strengthen ties with Cuba in the face of growing tensions with the United States and its allies.

In December 2018, Russia briefly sent a pair of its strategic Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela, demonstrating support for the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, under Western pressure.

“We have nowhere to retreat”

Riabkov said that the refusal of the United States and its allies to consider Russia’s essential demands to ensure that the Alliance did not expand into Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc countries makes it difficult to discuss confidence-building steps that Washington is ready to negotiate.

“The United States wants to develop a dialogue on some elements of the security situation … to ease tensions, but then continues the process of geopolitical and military penetration into new territories approaching Moscow,” he said. “We have nowhere to retreat.”

According to Riabkov, the deployment of US and NATO military contingents and exercises near Russia’s borders is extremely destabilizing. The vice-minister noted that U.S. strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons flew just 15 km from the Russian border.

“We are constantly facing provocative military pressure to test our power,” Riabkov said, adding that he would be interested in how the Americans would react “if our bombers flew 15 km from some U.S. bases on the East or West Coast.”

This week, high-level diplomatic talks took place in Russia in recent months, concentrating on the border with Ukraine about 100 thousand. soldiers, tanks and other heavy weapons. On Thursday, Mr Sullivan reiterated that Moscow might be preparing to invade Ukraine under the guise of fictitious Kiev’s plans to take action against Russia.

A White House adviser said the U.S. will be ready to make public in the coming days what it is relying on to make such assessments.

A Kremlin spokesman earlier on Thursday Dmitry Peskov rejected Western calls for Moscow to withdraw its forces from areas near Ukraine.

Sergei Riabkov

Sergei Riabkov

“It’s hard to imagine how NATO could dictate to us where we should move our forces on Russian territory,” he said.

Mr Peskov said this week’s talks had brought “some positive elements and nuances” but were generally unsuccessful.

“Negotiations have been initiated in order to obtain concrete answers to the specific questions of principle, and disagreements over these questions of principle remain, which is bad,” a Kremlin spokesman told reporters.

He warned that the adoption of planned sanctions against Putin or other high-ranking civilian officials or the military could lead to a breakdown in US-Russia relations. Democrats in the U.S. Senate have also suggested taking action against Russia’s financial institution if Moscow sends troops to Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also condemned the proposed sanctions, which he said reflected the “arrogance” of the United States. He added that Moscow expects to receive a written response from the US and NATO next week to its demands set out last month to consider further steps.

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