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Russian President Putin said the West has not addressed Russia's main demands

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In a moment, we'll hear my conversation with two U.S. lawmakers on the ground here in Kyiv, as this city and this country wait to see whether Russia invades.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

But first, Russian President Vladimir Putin is weighing in on security proposals from the U.S. and NATO. Putin says the West has not addressed Russia's main demands, which the Kremlin is pressing with more than 100,000 troops deplored (ph) and deployed - I'm sorry - near the borders of Ukraine. But as NPR's Charles Maynes reports from Moscow, other signals from the Kremlin today were more encouraging.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Russia and the West have been trading increasingly heated barbs, with each accusing the other of risking a wider conflict. Yet in an interview with Russian media Friday morning, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took a new approach - less hawk, more dove.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGEI LAVROV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: "If it depends on Russia, there will be no war," said Lavrov, adding that Russia wouldn't allow its interest to be ignored. He went on to accuse Western governments of hysterically advancing the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lavrov also indicated he saw some merit in several proposals the U.S. made when it delivered its written response to Russia's security demands this week. He noted arms control offers, for one, and credited Russia for providing the solutions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAVROV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: "The West refused to consider this for the past several years, and now they're ready to discuss thanks to our Russian initiatives from which they borrowed," said Lavrov. "At least that's something."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAVROV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: But he added, it would be up to President Putin to determine Russia's next steps. In fact, just hours later, in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin ended weeks of silence that has kept the world guessing.

According to the Kremlin readout, Putin told Macron Russia was still studying the U.S. and NATO responses and had yet to determine its next moves. But Putin argued the West had failed to address Russia's principal demands - no NATO membership for Ukraine, a rollback of NATO troops from Eastern Europe and a pledge not to deploy missiles near Russia's borders. Putin has warned of what he calls a military technical response if these demands aren't met.

ANTON OREHKH: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: Anton Orehkh, a political commentator for Echo of Moscow Radio, says in these mixed messages, with tensions flaring up or dialing down, Putin keeps the crisis in the center of Russians' minds. The crisis distracts from real problems at home, he says, while Putin, who fashions himself a historical leader, addresses Russia's geopolitical grievances.

OREHKH: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: "The goal is to ask for the impossible, and then if anything works out, claim victory," says Orehkh.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: In a speech before Russia's Foreign Ministry last November, President Putin outlined an approach that he noted was starting to pay dividends - keeping tensions with the West on high simmer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: "We need to preserve this state as long as possible," said Putin, "so that no one would even think of trying to create a conflict on our Western borders that we don't need." It's an approach, Putin suggested, his foreign minister might try.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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