Russia considers ‘serious’ offer to inspect US missile bases to defuse Ukraine crisis

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Vladimir Putin, the Russian president - Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president - Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Moscow on Thursday said it was ready for “serious conversations” about Washington’s proposals to defuse the Ukraine crisis, which reportedly include an invitation for Russia to inspect US missile bases in Europe.

The US and Nato this week formally rejected Moscow’s demand that Ukraine is never allowed to join the transatlantic alliance, as more than 125,000 Russian troops mass on the country’s border.

However, in a letter hand-delivered by the ambassador to Moscow, Washington proposed a number of other areas of co-operation.

These include reviving arms control treaties, limiting military exercises, and granting Moscow long-demanded access to a number of Nato sites in Europe, sources told US media.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said that there was scope to discuss “secondary issues”, but regretted the lack of movement on Moscow’s key demands that Ukraine is barred from Nato and the US withdraw Nato troops from Eastern Europe.

He said: “As far as this document goes, there is a reaction that allows us to hope for a start of a serious discussion but on secondary issues. There is no positive reaction to the main issue.”

War with Ukraine ‘unthinkable’

Separately, a foreign ministry spokesman described war with Ukraine as “unthinkable” and said that Russia hoped to see progress in a forthcoming round of talks aimed at resolving the long-simmering conflict in the Donbass region. Russian markets and the ruble rose on the news.

“There is a scope for dialogue,” said Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, as he indicated that Washington’s rejection of Russia’s key demands would not immediately trigger a military response.

The Russian president would analyse the response in full before any further move, said Mr Peskov, adding: “It would be foolish to expect [an answer] as early as next week.”

The content of the letter has not officially been made public.

Inspections of missile bases in Poland and Romania could assuage the Kremlin’s fears that the missiles might be targeting Russia, not Iran as the US has claimed. The proposal, if agreed, would provide Russia with access to Nato sites that it has been demanding for years.

“Russia will become one step closer to the status of guarantor of European security that Moscow has sought for almost three decades,” Pavel Luzin, an independent military analyst, told The Telegraph.

However, it remained to be seen whether Poland and Romania would allow Russian military inspectors at their sites, he said.

EU training mission ‘could be watered down’

Russian tanks in Rostov - Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
Russian tanks in Rostov - Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Separately, plans for a “visible” European Union military training mission in Ukraine were at risk of being watered down on Thursday as some nations feared the move could escalate tensions with Russia.

Germany opposed sending an EU-badged mission to help Kyiv overhaul its Soviet-era academy for military officers because it could be perceived as an act of aggression by the Kremlin.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers this week, the European External Action Service, the bloc’s foreign affairs arm, presented plans to deploy up to 35 advisers to Ukraine, in response to the threat of a Russian invasion.

While a majority of member states backed the proposals, Germany joined Italy, Spain and Greece in raising concerns over the possibility that they risked inflaming tensions. They spoke out in favour of sending financial aid to Kyiv instead.

Meanwhile, Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine continues. In a report this week, Janes, a global agency for open-source defence intelligence, pointed to fresh deployments to Russia’s western border, including missile systems shipped to Belarus and warships sent to the Mediterranean Sea.

Russia is expected to kick off its largest war games in years in Belarus in mid-February. On Thursday, a Belarusian deputy defence minister vowed that Russian troops would leave as soon as the drills are over, after fears among the population that they could become a permanent presence.

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