The US could be willing to make an agreement with Russia to ease tensions over missile deployments in Europe if Moscow steps back from the brink in Ukraine, according to a leaked document.
Spanish newspaper El Pais published two documents purported to be written replies from the US and Nato last week to Russia’s proposals for a new security arrangement in Europe.
The US document, marked as a confidential “non-paper”, said Washington would be willing to discuss in consultation with its Nato partners “a transparency mechanism to confirm the absences of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland”.
That would happen on condition that Moscow “offers reciprocal transparency measures on two ground-launched missiles bases of our choosing in Russia”.
Aegis is a system for defending against short or intermediate-range missiles, but Russia has claimed in the past that the US could attack with Tomahawk intermediate-range missiles from Aegis Ashore sites.
The US document said Washington would have to consult Nato allies on the potential offer, particularly Romania and Poland.
The text of the second document closely reflects statements made to the media by Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg as he laid out the 30-nation military organisation’s position on Russia’s demands.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the leaked documents, saying only: “We didn’t release anything.”
In comments to the state RIA Novosti news agency, Russia’s Foreign Ministry also refused to confirm or deny that the documents were authentic.
Fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine have mounted in recent months after President Vladimir Putin deployed more than 100,000 troops to areas near Ukraine’s borders, including in neighbouring Belarus, backed by tanks, artillery, helicopters and warplanes.
Mr Putin says he does not intend to order an invasion.
The US underlined after its written proposals in the leaked document that “progress can only be achieved on these issues in an environment of de-escalation with respect to Russia’s threatening actions towards Ukraine”.
In his first public remarks on the standoff in more than a month, Mr Putin on Tuesday accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s central security demands but said Moscow is willing to talk more to ease tensions over Ukraine.
His remarks suggested a potential Russian invasion may not be imminent and that at least one more round of diplomacy is likely.
After talks in Kyiv on Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte underlined that “it is essential for dialogue to continue” otherwise “it is clear that further aggression against Ukraine will have serious consequences”.
Russia’s military build-up has already taken a toll on Ukraine’s economy, but Mr Zelensky said his government has taken steps to calm the markets and the local currency, the hryvnia.
He said Ukraine has also boosted its combat and armed forces capabilities, but underlined that “we think only about peace and de-occupation of (our) territories, solely through diplomatic means”.
The leaked documents carry no mention of Ukraine’s hopes of joining Nato. Mr Putin has demanded that Nato stop taking in new members and withdraw its troops and equipment from countries that joined the alliance since 1997, almost half its ranks.
In the leaked document linked to Nato, the 30 allies said they “reaffirm our commitment to Nato’s Open Door policy”, without specifically mentioning Ukraine.
Under Article 10 of Nato’s founding treaty, other European countries may be invited in if they further the goals of European security.
At a Nato summit in 2008, leaders welcomed “Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in Nato”, adding: “We agreed today that these countries will become members of Nato.”
Russia invaded Georgia later that year, and in 2014 annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Around 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict that still simmers in eastern Ukraine.
Their membership plans have been on hold for years, although Nato continues to support them and promote reforms.