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Britain toughens stance on Russia, as Russia presses NATO for assurances

The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, outlined the
plan in an interview with broadcaster Sky News, presenting it as part of a
broad range of efforts to deter further aggression from President Vladimir
Putin of Russia. Britain is already supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine and
has offered to increase its troop deployments elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Also Sunday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey
V Lavrov, said that Russia would seek clarity from NATO on its intentions days
after the United States and its allies delivered a formal rejection to Moscow’s
demands that NATO retreat from Eastern Europe and bar Ukraine from joining the
alliance.

Lavrov’s comments in an interview with
Russia’s main government television channel suggested that while Moscow is
displeased — as expected — with the Western response, there may still be a
flicker of hope for further diplomacy.

But if diplomacy fails, Truss said, the
British legislation will give the country more punitive options, so there will
be “nowhere to hide” for oligarchs or “any company of interest to the Kremlin
and the regime in Russia.” Britain has long been a financial hub for Russia’s
wealthy and well connected, with one British parliamentary report describing
London as a “laundromat” for illicit Russian money.

While the British Parliament typically takes
weeks or months to pass a bill, emergency procedures allow it to legislate in
as little as a day under some circumstances.

Truss said Britain would rule nothing out and
would “look at every option” to support Ukraine, as the British government and
its allies pursue diplomacy at the same time as developing economically
punitive measures that might persuade Putin not to invade.

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“We’re doing all we can through deterrence and
diplomacy to urge him to desist,” Truss, who plans to meet with Ukraine’s
president and the Russian foreign minister in the next two weeks, told the BBC.

Biden administration officials reiterated
Sunday that the United States believes a Russian invasion is “imminent,” even
if Ukraine has been trying to play down the crisis.

“We have been nothing but clear and
transparent about our concerns here at the Pentagon over the rapid buildup for
the last few months around the border with Ukraine and in Belarus,” the
Pentagon’s press secretary, John F. Kirby, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” the chairman of
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., made a joint
appearance with the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho. Menendez
said there was “an incredibly strong bipartisan resolve to have severe
consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine, and in some cases for what it
has already done.”

Menendez said that legislation under
discussion was expected to include “massive sanctions against the most
significant Russian banks: crippling to their economy, meaningful in terms of
consequences to the average Russian and their accounts and pensions.”

Sanctions, though, were not Lavrov’s focus
Sunday — NATO was.

He said an official request was sent Sunday to
both NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an
alliance that includes Russia. Lavrov described it as “an urgent demand to
explain how they intend to fulfil their obligation not to strengthen their
security at the expense of the security of others.”

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“If they do not intend to, then they must
explain why,” Lavrov said, adding that “this will be the key question in
determining our further proposals, which we will report to Russia’s president,”
he said.

The Kremlin has been highly critical of NATO’s
so-called open-door policy of granting membership to former Communist bloc
countries without taking Russia’s security concerns into account. In his
remarks, Lavrov reiterated a frequent Kremlin complaint that NATO, in the years
since the Soviet collapse, had crept ever closer to Russia’s border.

“Now they’ve come up to Ukraine, and they want
to drag that country in,” he said. “Though everyone understands that Ukraine is
not ready and will make no contribution to strengthening NATO security.”

As the temperature stayed high between most of
the West and Russia, one bit of statesmanship did apparently succeed. Russia
backed out of a plan to conduct naval exercises next week in international
waters off Ireland’s coast, which had drawn protests from Irish fishing groups and
the Irish government.

The drills were set to take place 150 miles
off Ireland’s southwest coast, outside its territorial waters but within
Ireland’s exclusive economic zone, an area where the country has sovereign
rights over marine resources.

Fishing groups raised concerns that the
activity could disrupt marine life and jeopardise an important region for their
trade. One organisation had planned to peacefully protest the exercises.

Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney,
described the proposed drills in an interview last week with Irish public
broadcaster RTE as “simply not welcome and not wanted right now.”

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While acknowledging that Russia’s plans did
not breach the international law of the sea, he said in a statement that his
department had raised several concerns with Russian authorities “in light of
the current political and security environment in Europe.”

Moscow then decided to relocate the exercises
outside of the Irish exclusive economic zone “as a gesture of goodwill,” the
Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, said in a statement released
Saturday. Coveney said on Twitter that he welcomed Russia’s response.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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