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Russia Says It Won't Start a War       01/28 06:05

   Russia's top diplomat said Friday that Moscow will not start a war in 
Ukraine but warned that it wouldn't allow the West to trample on its security 
interests, amid fears it is planning to invade its neighbor.

   MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's top diplomat said Friday that Moscow will not start 
a war in Ukraine but warned that it wouldn't allow the West to trample on its 
security interests, amid fears it is planning to invade its neighbor.

   U.S. President Joe Biden warned Ukraine's leader a day earlier that there is 
a "distinct possibility" that Russia could take military action against the 
former Soviet state in February.

   "There won't be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we 
don't want a war," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a live interview with 
Russian radio stations. "But we won't let our interests be rudely trampled on 
and ignored."

   Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the United States and its NATO 
allies warily eyed a buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine, 
worrying that Moscow was preparing to attack. Russia has repeatedly denied 
having any such plans, but has demanded that NATO promise Ukraine will never be 
allowed to join and that the alliance roll back deployments of troops and 
military equipment in Eastern Europe.

   The U.S. and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, though 
Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that 
there could be a way to avoid war.

   Russia's official response to those proposals will come from President 
Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin has said there was "little ground for optimism."

   Lavrov echoed noted that grim note Friday.

   "While they say they won't change their positions, we won't change ours," he 
said. "I don't see any room for compromise here."

   Putin opened the weekly meeting of his Security Council on Friday, saying 
only that it would address foreign policy issues. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry 
Peskov said that the Russian leader may also discuss his reaction to the U.S. 
rejection with French President Emmanuel Macron during their video call the 
same day.

   Lavrov noted that the U.S. suggested the two sides could talk about limits 
on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military 
drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft. He said 
that Russia proposed discussing those issues years ago -- but Washington and 
its allies never took them up on it until now.

   While he described the U.S. offers as reasonable, he emphasized that 
Russia's main concerns are to stop both NATO's expansion and the deployment of 
the alliance weapons near Russia's borders. He noted that international 
agreements say that the security of one nation must not come at the expense of 
others' -- and that he would send letters to ask his Western counterparts to 
address that obligation.

   "It will be hard for them to wiggle out from answering why they aren't 
fulfilling the obligations sealed by their leaders not to strengthen their 
security at the expense of others," he said.

   As tensions build, Washington warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it 
invades Ukraine, including penalties targeting top Russian officials and key 
economic sectors. Several senior U.S. officials also said Thursday that Germany 
would not allow a newly constructed pipeline -- which is meant to bring gas 
directly from Russia -- to begin operations if Russia invades Ukraine.

   Asked about possible sanctions, Lavrov said that Moscow had warned 
Washington that their introduction would amount to a complete severing of ties.

   While Moscow and the West are mulling their next steps, NATO said it was 
bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the U.S. ordered 8,500 
troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe.

   Russia has launched a series of military drills involving motorized infantry 
and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the 
Baltic Sea, and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic. Russian 
troops have also headed to Belarus for sweeping joint drills, raising Western 
fears that Moscow could stage an attack on Ukraine from the north. The 
Ukrainian capital is just 75 kilometers (50 miles) from the border with Belarus.

   Despite the alarming rhetoric, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly tried to 
project calm.

   Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament Friday that the 
total number of Russian troops near Ukraine -- about 130,000 -- is comparable 
to Moscow's military buildup in the spring of 2021, when Moscow eventually 
pulled its forces back after massive military exercises.

   "We haven't observed any events or actions of military character that 
significantly differ from what was going on last spring," with the exception of 
the deployment to Belarus, Reznikov said.

   But that has so far not reassured many in the West. Biden warned Ukrainian 
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Thursday's call that the U.S. believed there 
was a high degree of likelihood that Russia could invade when the ground 
freezes and Russian forces could attack Ukrainian territory from north of Kyiv, 
according to two people familiar with the conversation who were not authorized 
to comment publicly.

   While concerns rise about an invasion, Ukraine is already beset by conflict. 
Following the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv, Moscow 
annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backed an insurgency in the country's 
eastern industrial heartland. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and 
Russia-backed rebels has killed over 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a 
settlement have stalled.

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