The United States has rejected Russian demands in a hand-delivered letter as a potential invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin loomed.
In a move that harkened back to a previous era of diplomacy, John Sullivan, the US ambassador to Moscow, brought a written response to Alexander Grushko, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, on Wednesday night.
Joe Biden was intimately involved in crafting the letter from Washington, which had been awaited in Moscow as a reply to its demands.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said the document made no concessions, including on Mr Putin’s call for Ukraine to never be allowed to join Nato in the future.
It was also made clear that Nato’s open-door policy, which Vladimir Putin objects to, was not negotiable.
The demand that the alliance roll back troop deployments in other former Soviet bloc nations was also rejected.
Wording is as ‘precise as possible’
Mr Blinken said: “Putting things in writing is a good way to make sure we’re as precise as possible, and the Russians understand our positions. Right now, the document is with them, and the ball is in their court.
“We make clear [in the letter] that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances. There is no change, there will be no change.”
He said allies had been consulted on the wording of the letter and there was “no daylight” between them.
There would be “no surprises” for Nato and European allies, he said.
Mr Blinken said he would speak with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, about it in the coming days.
He said: “I have no doubt that Mr Lavrov will share the letter with President Putin, and perhaps everybody else.”
The letter did set out areas, including arms control, where the US believes it can work with Russia.
US officials still hope to negotiate
US officials were hopeful the document might lead to negotiations and deter an invasion of Ukraine – but that depended on Mr Putin’s response, they said.
Mr Lavrov said: “If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures.”
Meanwhile, US citizens in Ukraine were told to leave “now”, an escalation from Sunday when they were “recommended” to consider leaving by the State Department.
The UK demanded its European allies “do more” to deter a Russian invasion.
The government of Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, claims it is following a long-standing policy of not sending arms to conflict zones.
Germans mocked for agreeing to send helmets to Ukraine
Instead, Berlin announced it would send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine.
Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv and a former heavyweight boxer, criticised that as a “joke”, adding: “What will they send next? Pillows?”
Lt-Gen Ben Hodges, a former US army commander in Europe, said: “Germany sells arms to Egypt, which is involved in conflicts with Yemen and Libya, but does not want to supply arms to Ukraine. That’s hypocrisy.”
Norbert Röttgen of the opposition Christian Democrats in Germany, said: “In sending 5,000 helmets to Ukraine the government only worsens its own and Germany’s position.
“It’s embarrassing that the government believes the scope of this crisis could be expressed in helmets.”
Liz Truss, the British Foreign Secretary, demanded that the EU finalises its plans to hit Moscow with sanctions.
She said: “We’ll be legislating to toughen up our sanctions regime and make sure we are fully able to hit those individuals and companies and banks in Russia in the event of an incursion.
“What’s important is that all of our allies do the same, because it’s by collective action by showing Vladimir Putin we are united that we will help deter a Russian incursion.”
She added: “We would like to see our allies do more to help supply defensive support to Ukraine, and also put those sanctions in place.”
Ms Truss said the UK did not rule out personal sanctions on Mr Putin.