Russia wants NATO to remove all its forces from Bulgaria, Romania and other former communist countries in Eastern Europe that joined the alliance after 1997, the foreign ministry said on Friday, stressing Moscow’s stubborn stance ahead of security talks with the United States. Geneva.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in written questions and answers on the ministry’s website that Russia’s demands include “withdrawing foreign forces, equipment and weapons and taking other steps to return to the state since 1997,” when NATO began accepting former Warsaw Pact of the country.
“This includes Bulgaria and Romania,” Lavrov said, adding that Russia’s request was “essential” and “deliberately worded as clearly as possible so as not to allow double interpretations.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov responded quickly, refuting Lavrov. “Bulgaria is a sovereign country, which long ago made its choice by becoming a member of NATO,” he told parliament. “As such, we decide for ourselves [how] organize the defense of our country in coordination with our partners. “
Western officials say Russian President Vladimir Putin is closer than ever to launching a new invasion of Ukraine after gathering more than 106,000 troops near its border in recent weeks. More than 14,000 people have died in Ukraine’s eastern border region in the slow-moving conflict since 2014.
The United States has made frantic diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions and warned of “enriching” sanctions in the event of any Russian aggression against Ukraine.
But Western unity was disrupted this week after US President Joe Biden seemed to suggest that the West’s response would depend on the scale of Russia’s intervention, and French President Emmanuel Macron proposed separate European-led security talks with Moscow.
Biden later clarified his comments by saying that Russia would “pay a high price” in the event of any incursion.
Lavrov and Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, discussed Moscow’s security demands in Geneva on Friday, but both said they did not expect a shift.
Blinken said at the beginning of the conversation: “I hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy and dialogue remains open. We are committed to following this path, resolving our differences peacefully, and I hope that we will test that claim today. “
But he said the United States and its allies are committed, “if that proves impossible and Russia decides to continue its aggression against Ukraine, with a united, swift and sharp response.”
Lavrov said that Russia “does not expect progress in these negotiations either” and added that he expects a written response from the United States to Moscow’s draft security proposals, “which are extremely concrete and we are waiting for equally concrete answers.”
The United States and its European allies have said Russia’s demands that NATO commit itself to never accept Ukraine and withdraw the alliance’s expansion to the east – which would essentially change the security order after the Cold War – are unacceptable.
Macron said on Wednesday that France is ready to send troops to Romania if NATO decides to increase its presence there. NATO members are discussing the deployment of troops in the Black Sea region as part of “enhanced presence” missions, similar to those in Poland and the Baltic states following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Putin has promised an indefinite “military-technical response” if the West does not agree with Russia’s draft security proposals.