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Russia responds in writing to U.S. proposal on Ukraine crisis

Soldiers are on high alert at Ukraine’s northeastern border, near Kharkiv, amid a build-up of Russian troops on the other side. (Video: Whitney Shefte, Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post, Photo: Serhiy Morgunov/The Washington Post)

The Russian government has delivered a written response to a U.S. proposal aimed at de-escalating the Ukraine crisis, said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic talks.

The delivery of the response comes as the Biden administration continues a delicate dance that seeks to keep Russia at the diplomatic table without conceding to any of its core demands. The Kremlin has moved about 100,000 troops and heavy weaponry near the Ukrainian border and ignored calls by the United States to return its forces to their barracks.

“We can confirm we received a written follow-up from Russia,” the official said Monday. “It would be unproductive to negotiate in public, so we’ll leave it up to Russia if they want to discuss their response.”

The official declined to provide details about the proposal, delivered ahead of a phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday.

“We remain fully committed to dialogue to address these issues and will continue to consult closely with our allies and partners, including Ukraine,” said the official.

In Moscow, however, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Tuesday that Russia has responded in writing on the main issue of contention. “There has been some confusion,” he told reporters. “Those were different considerations on a slightly different subject.”

Peskov added: “Russia has not given an answer to what seems to be the main problem nowadays. The answer is still being prepared.”

Last week, Moscow reacted pessimistically to the Biden administration’s written proposal. In comments Thursday, Peskov told reporters, “It cannot be said that our views were taken into account, or that a readiness to take our concern into account was demonstrated.”

Blinken has described the U.S. proposal as something that offers the Kremlin “a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it.” But U.S. officials have said the West did not bow to Russia’s demand that NATO close its “open door policy,” barring countries such as Ukraine and Georgia from joining the military alliance.

Russia has said it has no intention to invade Ukraine and has accused the United States and Britain of using misinformation to raise tensions in the region.

Speaking to reporters Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed concerns that by talking about the threat of a potential Russian invasion, Washington is making the Ukrainians more vulnerable to Russian aggression.

“Well, I can only speak for our intention and our responsibility, and we feel it’s important to be open and candid about the threat from Russia,” Psaki said. “It’s not just words, of course. You are seeing specifics that we’ve been laying out here, including over 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, amassed on the border, with more troops and weaponry on the way. They’ve also been surging troops into Belarus.”

She added that the White House’s goal is to keep both the American public and the global community informed “of the seriousness of this threat, even as we work with the Ukrainians, with the Europeans to ensure we are not only preparing them and providing them supplies that they need, but standing up and making clear to the Russians what the consequences will be.”

Asked about a contentious meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, during which Russia’s ambassador claimed that the West’s assertion that Russia has amassed 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border has not been confirmed, Psaki said the United States and NATO allies “know what we have seen with our own eyes.”

“Now again, Russia has the power,” she said. “They are the aggressor here. They have the power and ability to de-escalate, to pull their troops back from the border, to not push more troops to Belarus, to take steps to de-escalate the situation on the ground.”