US-Russian talks on Ukraine end after eight hours without agreement

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Skeptical Russian and American officials held eight hours of “frank and direct” talks on Monday to avoid war in Ukraine on Monday, but came up with little more than an agreement to continue talking.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation to the Geneva meeting, declined to say whether she believed Russia’s assurances that it had no intention of invading the former Soviet republic. And Russia expressed its outrage at the US insistence that it will not stop NATO expansion in Europe.

Sherman said he told his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, that Moscow must “de-escalate” by moving its estimated 100,000 troops away from the Ukrainian border. He did not set a timetable for such action, but reiterated the US threat that if Russia invades the neighboring country, as it did in 2014, it will face severe economic and diplomatic sanctions.

“It’s a very tough choice,” Sherman told reporters at a news conference after the session. “We’ll see how serious they are … That’s what the Russians would tell you [Monday’s talks] they were an open offer for serious negotiation. We’ll see if that’s the case. “

The Biden administration, which is already facing deteriorating relations with an increasingly aggressive Russia, said it was ready to discuss the deployment of missiles in Europe and the size, scope and “transparency” of joint military exercises. of the U.S. and NATO in the region, Sherman said. Any move by the United States and its allies would have been attended to by a “reciprocal” action by Russia, he said.

The United States is also willing to try to revive an agreement along the lines of the Interim Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, but which has expired, Sherman said.

Limiting NATO expansion to excluding many of the Eastern European nations that President Vladimir Putin considers to be part of his sphere of influence, however, is not a principle, he said.

“We have a long way to go,” Sherman added.

Ryabkov sounded even more pessimistic at a side-by-side press conference.

He said US diplomats seemed reluctant to consider Moscow’s interests, according to Sputnik news agency. Requirements such as a ban on joining NATO in some countries are a priority “from which we cannot back down”. With no progress on these issues, “work on other issues, in all their importance, will be at stake,” Ryabkov said.

Expectations for Monday’s special meeting of the US-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue have been low since long ago, when in a couple of talks, one by phone, one by video, Presidents Biden and Putin agreed to convene the ad hoc body.

The Biden administration, along with most of Europe, is increasingly alarmed by the military movement of Russian forces that Western officials fear may be the forerunner of another invasion of Ukraine. Russia invaded in 2014 and continues to occupy the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine; Putin claims the annexed region as Russian. And Moscow supports armed separatist rebels in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. Thousands have been killed.

Diplomats have said it is unlikely that any rapprochement will take place in Russia as long as the threat of invasion remains alive. Asked what the West wants to see as a “de-escalation”, Sherman said Russian troops on the border with Ukraine should “return to their barracks”. She didn’t dig deep.

Sherman and his entourage will continue diplomatic rounds on Tuesday, with consultations in Brussels
with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and various European Union officials. A Russia-NATO Council session follows on Wednesday, and a 57-member meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.

Sherman tried to allay accusations in Moscow and some concerns in European capitals that Washington was trying to make deals without consulting allies.

“We will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, about NATO without NATO,” he said. “As we tell our partners and allies, ‘nothing about you without you.'”

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