Russia signals no hurry to respond to NATO diplomacy as the West races to shore up support for Ukraine

MOSCOW — The Russian government is refusing to be drawn on a response to a diplomatic path laid out by the United States and its NATO allies to defuse escalating tensions along the border with Ukraine.

The United States and NATO on Wednesday delivered written responses to the Kremlin’s demands for security guarantees that would curtail the Western military alliance’s further expansion and activities in Eastern Europe. The proposals, which NATO sent to the Russian Embassy in Brussels and were hand-delivered by U.S. Ambassador to Russia John J. Sullivan to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, set “out a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters. They also affirmed NATO’s commitment to an open-door policy for nations that want to join.

The Kremlin suggested it would be in no hurry to reply to the proposals, which Blinken said were coordinated with Kyiv, which is not a NATO member. “We will read it. Study it,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told the Interfax news agency. “The partners studied our project for almost a month and a half.”

Even as diplomacy continues, the United States and some European allies are ramping up preparations for a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he wasn’t optimistic about the chances of achieving a diplomatic breakthrough and averting a Russian invasion, although he said there’s still “a chance.”

Amid the tension, Ukraine’s interior ministry said early Thursday that five people were killed and another five were injured in a shooting by a National Guard service member in the city of Dnipro. The gunman fled the scene carrying a weapon. Officials said in a statement that the motives for the shooting are not yet known.

U.S. officials are working with countries and companies around the world to shore up alternative energy supplies to Europe, which relies on Russia for natural gas exports, in the event that Moscow responds to potential sanctions by cutting off supply. The White House has acknowledged there are limits to any contingency measures, as the industry grapples with logistical issues and capacity constraints.

“No question there are logistical challenges, especially moving natural gas. That’s part of our discussion with a lot of these companies and countries,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday. “But again, these conversations are ongoing and we don’t intend to fail on them.”

The debate over how to restrain Russian aggression has been complicated by the fact that some European countries, particularly those with closer ties to Moscow, have been reluctant to confront the Kremlin too directly. As Washington tries to shield its allies from possible Russian retaliation, Wallace, the U.K. minister, is in Europe canvassing support for sanctions. He is also set to travel to Russia in coming days for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu.

Berlin became the subject of scorn in Kyiv after saying it would supply 5,000 military helmets to help with Ukraine’s self-defense — as the United States and other NATO members send lethal weapons, including tons of arms and antitank missiles.

“The behavior of the German government leaves me speechless,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told the German tabloid Bild. “What kind of support will Germany send next, pillows?”

Though officials have not detailed punitive measures against Moscow, a controversial target would be the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany when it is activated. Many European allies oppose the pipeline, which deepens Berlin’s reliance on Moscow.

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who is now deputy chair of a powerful security council, told local media that “no one is looking for war.”

“Unfortunately, we have practically exhausted the limits of retreat,” he said, according to the Tass news agency, in an apparent reference to NATO’s incorporation of several former Soviet republics that sought entry into the alliance.

Moscow, meanwhile, appears eager to exploit any potential gaps between Washington and its allies. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday met via videoconference with the leaders of some of Italy’s most influential companies to discuss economic ties, in a gathering Rome had tried to prevent from going ahead. The event was a show of Russia’s economic leverage — and the two-sided pain that would result in the event of sanctions

The tense situation in Ukraine also is exacerbating internal divisions in the United States, where Republican leaders are attacking President Biden for what they describe as a weak response to Russian aggression. Others on the party’s right wing, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, are questioning why the country is getting involved in Ukraine at all.

In Ukraine, many residents are preparing for a return to the violence and unrest of 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. If a diplomatic solution fails, they are hoping for solidarity from other European nations.

“If terrible things may happen, I just want the whole world to support us, and to be aware, to accept us if we ask them,” said Alena Krichko, who lives with her two children in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, which sits less than 30 miles from the Russian border.

Pannett reported from Sydney. Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli in Rome and Whitney Shefte in Kharkiv, Ukraine, contributed to this article.

Published by: Robyn Dixon and Rachel pannett.

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