Russia Warns U.S. It Will 'Eliminate Unacceptable Threats' after Putin-Biden Talks
Moscow has issued a warning to the U.S. and NATO not to threaten its security, following talks between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin aimed at defusing tensions over Russia's military buildup by its border with Ukraine.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also told state-run news agency RIA that Moscow was committed to defending those in the war-torn Donbas region of eastern Ukraine where "citizens of our country live."
Lavrov's interview was published after a phone call between Biden and Putin in which the U.S. president said it would "respond decisively" if there were any invasion of Ukraine.
Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters after the call that any stepping up of sanctions by the U.S. against Russia would be a "colossal mistake."
With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed by Ukraine's border, the U.S. and its allies have raised the alarm over a possible invasion. Russia says it is acting in response to NATO expansion towards its borders.
Lavrov told RIA that Russia was pushing for a swift resolution to the standoff with Washington and did not want to get bogged down in "endless discussions."
"If there is no constructive response within a reasonable time and the West continues its aggressive line, then Russia will be forced to take all necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our security," Lavrov told the agency.
Since Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, an ongoing conflict in the Donbas region by Russia-backed separatists has claimed more than 13,000 lives. The Kremlin officially rejects any Russian involvement in the conflict.
In April 2019, Putin signed a decree to facilitate granting Russian citizenship to residents in Ukraine's Donbas region.
Lavrov appeared to referring to them when he told RIA, "as for the residents of Donbas, where hundreds of thousands of citizens of our country live, Russia will take all necessary measures to protect them."
Insisting that Moscow would continue to seek a solution via the Minsk agreement struck by Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Lavrov also said there would be an "an adequate response" to any "possible military provocations by Kyiv against Donbas."
During Thursday's call between Putin and Biden, both leaders backed further diplomacy on the standoff but much hinges on negotiations between the countries scheduled for January 10.
Earlier in December, Russia demanded guarantees that there would be no expansion of NATO, of which Ukraine is not a member. Moscow also called for a bar on new U.S. military bases in ex-Soviet countries.
Meanwhile, an op-ed by former and current American officials called on the U.S. and its allies to increase its military support for Kyiv and prepare for the humanitarian consequences of a Russian invasion.
"We believe that NATO should act now to begin bolstering its military presence on its eastern flank," said the piece co-signed by 24 prominent figures, including General Philip Breedlove, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and ex-U.S. ambassador John E. Herbst.
The piece on the Atlantic Council website said the U.S. and its allies "should communicate to Moscow "that Russia's escalation would bring a substantial number of U.S. and Allied forces and a permanent presence in the Baltic states and Black Sea region."
Newsweek has contacted the U.S. State Department for comment.