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Russian-American diplomacy has stalled, with a bombed-out Ukrainian kindergarten a stark reminder of the lives at stake

Fortunately, the shell that hit the Stanytsia Luhanska school did not kill anyone. But they were a reminder of the very real stakes for people living near the line of contact that separates Ukrainian government forces from Russian-backed separatists.

For weeks, world leaders have shuttled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and made high-level phone calls to try to dampen a confrontation between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis.

Yet in Moscow today, there is no sign of a breakthrough, but a sharp rise in tension. On Thursday afternoon local time, US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan visited the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he received a long-awaited response from the Russian government to a written document delivered to the Russia three weeks earlier.

The document made it clear that the Russians fully blame the United States and its allies for stoking the Ukraine crisis, even as evidence continues to mount that as many as 150,000 Russian troops are deployed around the borders of the EU. Ukraine.

“There is no plan for a ‘Russian invasion’ of Ukraine, as the United States and its allies have been claiming on an official level since last fall,” said the document published by the news agency. Russian RIA-Novosti. “Therefore, claims about ‘Russia’s culpability in the escalation’ can only be interpreted as an attempt to pressure and devalue Russian offers of security guarantees.”

Around the same time, the US State Department confirmed that Russia had expelled the second-most senior diplomat from the US diplomatic mission in Moscow, a move US President Joe Biden’s administration called a “step.” climbing”.

This escalation has clearly been gradual: a senior State Department official said that Bart Gorman, the US Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow, was officially expelled by Moscow earlier this year, with two weeks to leave and left Moscow last week.

So what about diplomacy? It’s still not quite dead. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Italian counterpart, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, on Thursday.

Lavrov made essentially the same complaint as in the written response delivered to the United States: the Americans and NATO ignored Russia’s main security concerns, he said, and none of the secondary issues – about technical details of arms control, for example – can be worked out “until we agree on our key positions”.

And on those key positions, especially when it comes to the question of who can join NATO, Russia and the West remain very, very far apart.

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