By VANESSA GERA
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — High-stakes diplomacy continued on Friday in a bid to avert a war in Eastern Europe. The urgent efforts come as 100,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s border and the Biden administration worries that Russian President Vladimir Putin will mount some sort of invasion within weeks.
Here are things to know about the international tensions surrounding Ukraine.
A DIPLOMATIC DEADLOCK
Russia’s top diplomat said Friday that Moscow will not start a war but also won’t allow the West to trample on its security interests.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there is little room for compromise after the West rejected Russia’s key demands that NATO never accept Ukraine as a member and that it roll back deployments in Eastern Europe.
Lavrov said that “while they say they won’t change their positions, we won’t change ours.”
He noted, however, that the U.S. — in a recent written response to Russian demands — has suggested the two sides could talk about other issues of importance. Those include limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke for over an hour to Putin in hopes that diplomacy can avert a war.
The call had two aims, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said earlier this week: “to continue dialogue” and to “push Russia to clarify its position and the aim of (military) maneuvering.”
Macron is also due to speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the evening.
RUSSIA SUSPENDS MILITARY INSPECTIONS
Germany expressed regret that Russia has suspended mutual military inspections at a time of heightened tensions.
They are intended as confidence-building measures among members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Russia recently announced it would suspend the inspections until the end of February, citing the spread of the omicron variant.
“Because of this an inspection on Russian territory in the border region of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, which Russia had previously agreed to, won’t currently be possible,” said the spokesman, Christofer Burger.
“We expressly regret this step because particularly in the current situation anything which creates greater transparency would help reduce tensions,” he said.
Burger said Russia also canceled inspections it was due to conduct in Germany.
EXPOSING DISINFORMATION HAS ITS RISKS
In a break from the past, the U.S. and its allies are increasingly revealing their intelligence findings, looking to expose Putin’s plans on Ukraine and deflect his efforts to shape world opinion.
The White House in recent weeks publicized what it said was a Russian “false-flag” operation to create a pretext for an invasion.
Britain named Ukrainians it accused of having ties to Russian intelligence officers plotting to overthrow Zelenskyy. The U.S. also released a map of Russian military positions and detailed how officials believe Russia will try to attack Ukraine with as many as 175,000 troops.
But the release of information isn’t without risks. Intelligence assessments carry varying degrees of certainty, and beyond offering photos of troop movements, the U.S. and its allies have provided little other proof. Moscow has invoked past American intelligence failures, including false information put forward about Iraq’s weapons programs.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE GERMAN HOWITZERS?
German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit says a decision had not yet been reached on whether to approve Estonia’s request to transfer artillery guns to Ukraine.
Germany originally owned the howitzers and sold them to Finland which then sold them to Estonia.
Hebestreit on Friday warned against pursuing what he called a “military logic” amid demands for German approval to deliver the howitzers to Ukraine.
“When push comes to shove that wouldn’t be a real solution either,” Hebestreit said. “That’s no game changer now.”
WILL RUSSIAN GAS KEEP FLOWING?
Germany says Russia remains a reliable natural gas supplier, but is still preparing for all scenarios.
Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit made the remark on Friday amid concerns that Russia might cut natural gas supplies to Europe.
“In our view the Russian gas supply contracts are being fulfilled everywhere so far and we strongly assume that this will remain the case,” Hebestreit said.
“At the same time it’s clear that one needs to prepare for all eventualities, and this is what the German government is doing,” he added.
CAN THE US HELP EUROPE WITH GAS SUPPLIES?
President Joe Biden and European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they were working to ensure “reliable and affordable energy supplies” to the EU.
Their joint declaration comes as concerns rise that Russia could cut or stem its gas supplies to Europe.
The issue is expected to be at the center of talks when the U.S.-EU Energy Council meets on February 7.
“The United States and the EU are working jointly towards continued, sufficient, and timely supply of natural gas to the EU from diverse sources across the globe to avoid supply shocks, including those that could result from a further Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Biden and von der Leyen said.
HOW IS THE UK BOOSTING ITS CYBER DEFENSES?
The U.K.‘s National Cyber Security Centre is urging businesses to strengthen computer network protection amid the Ukraine crisis.
It said Friday it’s investigating recent reports of “malicious cyber incidents” in Ukraine and that these attacks are similar to a pattern of Russian behavior during earlier conflicts.
While authorities aren’t aware of any specific threats against the U.K., the center is encouraging large organizations to bolster online defenses. The center is part of GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency.
HOW ARE TENSIONS AFFECTING BUSINESS?
Germany’s Foreign Ministry says it has denied a retired diplomat permission to work for a subsidiary of the Russian-owned gas pipeline operator.
“An internal review concluded that the taking on of this role had to be denied, because it would have encroached on official interests,” a ministry spokesman said Friday.
Meanwhile, Italian bank UniCredit also decided not to pursue a possible takeover bid for Russian bank Otrkitie due to Ukraine tensions.
CEO Andrea Orcel said in a media call Friday that UniCredit had started due diligence on an offer, but “given the geopolitical environment, we decided to withdraw.”
Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Colleen Barry in Milan and Danica Kirka in London contributed.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.