Russian foreign minister stresses ‘a way forward’ for diplomacy

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has told president Vladimir Putin that diplomatic engagement with the west over Russia’s security demands should continue and that he could see a way to move forward with talks.

Asked by Putin during a one-on-one televised meeting on Monday about the likelihood of a security agreement with the west over Ukraine and Nato, Lavrov said: “There’s always a chance.”

Lavrov said the US and Nato were not responding in a satisfactory way to Russia’s demands, but urged the Russian president to continue talks and said the US had put forward concrete proposals on reducing military risks.

Western capitals have warned that Russia could launch a full-blown invasion of Ukraine, and many this week urged their citizens to leave the country. Russia has denied it has any plans to invade.

Lavrov’s comments follow a weekend of intense diplomacy designed to de-escalate military tensions between Moscow and the west, including a call between Putin and Joe Biden and another on Saturday between Putin and French president Emmanuel Macron. Olaf Scholz, German chancellor, is heading to Moscow to meet the Russian president on Tuesday, after a stopover in Kyiv on Monday.

Lavrov added on Monday that Russia had prepared a 10-page letter outlining its reaction to the US and Nato response to Russia’s security requests, first laid out in a letter in December.

Russia’s demands include a rollback of Nato’s eastward expansion and a ban on Ukraine joining the military transatlantic alliance in future. It is making them with about 130,000 troops amassed on Ukraine’s eastern flank and taking part in large-scale drills to its north in Belarus.

In a subsequent meeting, defence minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin on Russian military drills, saying some had finished while others were wrapping up.

Russia is holding joint military exercises in Belarus, and has held smaller drills on the border with Ukraine, raising fears that such actions were preparations for military action.

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