US makes no concessions to Russia's demands over Ukraine, says Antony Blinken

"If you want peace you have to prepare for war" - ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine reports on how Ukraine and allies are ramping up their defences

The US said it will make no concessions to Russia's demands over Ukraine and Nato but said it was open to negotiating other matters.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said "there will be no change" to the US's support for Ukraine seeking Nato membership - perhaps the most contentious issue in discussions with the Kremlin.

Moscow has warned it would quickly take "retaliatory measures" if the US and its allies do not meet its demands.

Mr Blinken told a press conference that a long-awaited written response has been delivered to Moscow stating that the US's position remains the same.

He said the US response, hand delivered to the Russian Foreign Ministry by US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, gave up no ground on “core principles” such as Nato’s open-door membership policy and the alliance’s military presence in Eastern Europe.

The US letter delivered to Russia was "surely one of the most carefully crafted diplomatic documents of recent years," explains ITV News US Editor Robert Moore

"There are a core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances," Mr Blinken told reporters.

He added: "There is no change, there will be no change.”

However, he said the response to Russia also contains “serious” offers for a diplomatic path to de-escalate soaring tensions over Ukraine by addressing Russian concerns on other matters.

Mr Blinken said the document will not be available publicly because "we think that diplomacy has the best chance to succeed if we provide space for confidential talks".

The Russian navy’s missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov sails off for an exercise in the Arctic Credit: Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP

He said he expects to speak again to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days to get the Russian reaction.

But he said that whether Russia accepts the US's proposals is entirely the decision of President Vladimir Putin.

“That is up to President Putin,” he said. “We’ll see how they respond.”

The US proposals, echoed in a separate document sent to the Russians by Nato, include the potential for negotiations over offensive missile placements and military exercises in Eastern Europe, as well as broad arms control agreements as long as Russia withdraws its estimated 100,000 troops from the Ukrainian border.

Ukrainian servicemen walk to the frontline with Russia-backed separatists outside Verkhnotoretske village, Donetsk Credit: AP

Moscow has demanded guarantees that Nato will never admit Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations as members and that the alliance will roll back troop deployments in former Soviet bloc nations.

Some of these, like the membership pledge, are non-starters for the US and its allies, creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in a war.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it has plans to attack Ukraine but the US and Nato are worried about Russia massing its troops near Ukraine and conducting a series of sweeping military manoeuvres.

As part of the drills, motorised infantry and artillery units in south-western Russia practised firing live ammunition, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea performed bombing runs, dozens of warships sailed for training exercises in the Black Sea and the Arctic, and Russian fighter jets and paratroopers arrived in Belarus for joint war games.

A Russian soldier attends a military exercising at the Golovenki training ground in the Moscow region Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Speaking to Russian lawmakers, Mr Lavrov said he and other top officials will advise Mr Putin on the next steps after receiving the US reply.

“If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures,” Mr Lavrov said.

But he indicated Russia would not wait forever. “We won’t allow our proposals to be drowned in endless discussions,” he said.

In a separate development, presidential advisers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met for more than five hours in Paris on Wednesday over the long-running conflict in the eastern part of the country involving Moscow-backed separatists.

Although there was no breakthrough, they promised to meet for new talks in two weeks in Berlin.

The French president’s office said in a statement after the talks that the parties support “unconditional respect” for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

The talks focused on the 2015 Minsk peace agreement aimed at ending the conflict, and the statement did not address the current concerns about a Russian invasion.

Ukrainian representative Andriy Yermak said the meeting went hours longer than expected and marked the first real advance in talks since December 2019. He said the talks organised by the French and Germans were crucial “even when things were not so tense and now we know it more than ever”.