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Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s top diplomat said yesterday that Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine but warned that it wouldn’t allow the West to trample on its security interests, amid fears it is planning to invade its neighbour.

United States (US) President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leader a day earlier that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February.

“There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a live interview with Russian radio stations.

“But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”

Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies warily eyed a buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine, worrying that Moscow was preparing to attack.

Russia has repeatedly denied having any such plans, but has demanded that NATO promise Ukraine will never be allowed to join and that the alliance roll back deployments of troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe.

The US and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, though Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that there could be a way to avoid war.

Russia’s official response to those proposals will come from President Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin has said there was “little ground for optimism”.

An armed serviceman walks inside a trench near Spartak village in Yasynuvata district of Donetsk region. PHOTO: AP

Lavrov echoed that grim note yesterday.

“While they say they won’t change their positions, we won’t change ours,” he said. “I don’t see any room for compromise here.”

Putin opened the weekly meeting of his Security Council yesterday, saying only that it would address foreign policy issues. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian leader may also discuss his reaction to the US rejection with French President Emmanuel Macron during their video call the same day.

Lavrov noted that the US suggested the two sides could talk about limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft.

He said that Russia proposed discussing those issues years ago – but Washington and its allies never took them up on it until now.

While he described the US offers as reasonable, he emphasised that Russia’s main concerns are to stop both NATO’s expansion and the deployment of the alliance weapons near Russia’s borders. He noted that international agreements said that the security of one nation must not come at the expense of others’ – and that he would send letters to ask his Western counterparts to address that obligation.

“It will be hard for them to wiggle out from answering why they aren’t fulfilling the obligations sealed by their leaders not to strengthen their security at the expense of others,” he said.