Biden administration welcomes 'small' steps toward diplomacy with Russia

The Biden administration is welcoming positive, albeit modest, steps toward diplomacy with Russia amid heightened tensions over whether Moscow will launch a military offensive against Ukraine.

A senior administration official on Thursday said recent comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledging American concerns over Russia’s actions and demands signaled an openness to diplomatic talks expected to take place in January. 

“Our approach is understood to the Russians in this regard,” the official said in a briefing with reporters. “That is what diplomacy is, that's what a negotiation is, and that's what we plan to undertake.”

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Lavrov, in an interview with Russia's state-controlled RT Television late Wednesday, said that Moscow stands ready to discuss American concerns.

"The Americans have said that they are ready to discuss some of the concerns we have put on paper, that our other concerns are unacceptable to them, and that they have their own concerns as well. We are ready to discuss them, but they have not yet presented them," he said.  

The Biden administration plans to lock down a location and date for bilateral talks between Washington and Moscow in early January, the official said, as Washington, allies in NATO and Kyiv remain on high alert with nearly 200,000 Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s border. 

“We are continuing to watch closely Russia's alarming movement of forces and deployments along the border with Ukraine,” the official said.

Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUK prime minister to call Putin in attempt to stop Ukraine invasion Belarusian president vows war if Russia, Belarus attacked Biden says he'll send troops to Eastern Europe in 'near term' MORE has issued a list of security demands of the U.S., NATO and Ukraine in what he says are efforts to safeguard Russia from what he views as aggressive military posturing by the West.

The Biden administration rejects that Ukraine’s close ties with the West and aspirations to join NATO pose a threat to Russia — reinforcing the alliance as a defensive group — but said that Moscow has raised issues that can be addressed in diplomatic talks. 

The senior administration official also highlighted as a positive development the restoration of a ceasefire between Russian-backed separatist forces fighting against the Ukrainian military in the east of the country, which was announced on Wednesday. 

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“We welcomed what was a small step,” the official said of the cease-fire, “but our concern is with actions, not just words, so we will continue to monitor events on and around the border very closely.”

The official reiterated that the U.S. stands ready with allies in Europe, NATO and with Ukraine to take action against Russia if it launches an incursion into Ukraine, which American intelligence agencies have warned could occur in early January. 

Such actions include “massive sanctions, support for Ukraine's ability to defend its territory and force posture adjustments in front-line NATO allied-states,” the official said.

“We have been clear that there will be significant consequences if Russia chooses to go ahead with a further military invasion of Ukraine,” the official added.

Updated at 12:57 p.m.