Russia accuses U.S. of direct Ukraine war role, but says it's open to potential talks

Ukrainian servicemen fire a mortar on a front line in Donetsk region

By Andrew Osborn and Caleb Davis

(Reuters) -Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States and NATO of playing a direct and dangerous role in the Ukraine war and said Washington had turned Kyiv into an existential threat for Moscow which it could not ignore.

Russia's top diplomat, speaking on Thursday during his annual news conference in Moscow, also accused the United States and NATO of trying to ratchet up tensions in the South China Sea and of trying to subvert any regional bodies designed to promote dialogue, such as the OSCE in Europe and ASEAN in Asia.

And he defended a Russian campaign that has used air, drone and missile strikes to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure, attacks that Kyiv and the West have called war crimes.

"We disable energy facilities (in Ukraine) that allow you (the West) to pump lethal weapons into Ukraine to kill Russians," Lavrov said.

"So don't say that the U.S. and NATO are not participants in this war - you are directly participating. Including not only with the supply of weapons, but also with the training of personnel - you train the (Ukrainian) military on your territory."

Lavrov's stance, revisiting familiar Russian talking points, is rejected by the West which says Moscow, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, is the belligerent one. Western powers say they are arming and training Kyiv to help it recapture its own land and that Ukraine does not have territorial designs on Russian land.

Russia, which dominated Ukraine before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, calls its intervention in its neighbour "a special military operation" to safeguard Moscow's security.

Lavrov delivered his anti-Western tirade as Russia's invasion of Ukraine ground through its tenth month with fighting raging in the east and officials in parts of Ukraine still battling to restore electricity knocked out by Russian strikes.

Lavrov accused the West of trying to use the conflict to destroy Russia. "Talk of the West being interested in some kind of peaceful settlement does not impress us," he said.

"The West has publicly announced that it does not just want Russia to be defeated on the battlefield. It has said that Russia should be destroyed as a player altogether. And some are even holding special conferences speculating on how many parts to divide Russia into and who will lead which part."

His comments appeared to be a reference to the fact that some Western politicians have said they want to ensure Russia cannot pose a threat to neighbouring countries in future, and to remarks by some Ukrainian politicians who have speculated how long Russia might hold together as one country.


Although Lavrov devoted most of the event to criticising the West, he made clear that Russia was open to the possibility of talks, both with Ukraine and the United States.

Russia is ready to listen to anyone who wanted to hold talks, he said. It had never shied away from any possible contacts between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and had shown willingness by receiving the German and French leaders when they wanted to discuss Ukraine.

Ukraine has said it will only be ready to hold talks once Russia had withdrawn from its territory, including from Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

Kyiv has said that Russia would only use talks as a chance to buy time and rebuild its armed forces.

Lavrov said this was "absurd" and complained about what he called the "naive" American expectation that Russia would continue talks on nuclear stability at a time when he said the West was using Ukraine to destroy Russia. Moscow pulled out of scheduled talks this week on the New START nuclear treaty between the two countries.

"For now we aren't hearing any meaningful ideas," said Lavrov. "(But) if there will be proposals from the president (Biden) and from other members of his administration, we'll never shy away from contacts."

(Reporting by ReutersWriting by Andrew Osborn Editing by Mark Trevelyan)