Ukraine standoff shows few signs of progress after first US-Russian talks

U.S. and Russian diplomats engaged in nearly six hours of “pragmatic” talks on Monday that ostensibly did not resolve a dangerous military standoff along the Russian-Ukrainian border and rising tensions in Eastern Europe, with senior officials from both countries publicly downplaying the talks and insisting Said the other party must take the first step.

The lack of substantive progress on Ukraine at Monday’s meeting in Geneva should come as no surprise. A day earlier, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told ABC News that he sees little hope of an immediate breakthrough on the crisis, as Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that the United States and NATO work to avoid war.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman made similar remarks after a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on Monday. Monday’s talks didn’t even escalate to formal “negotiations,” she said.

“Today was a discussion to better understand each other and each other’s priorities and concerns. This is not what you would call a negotiation. We’re not ready to write down the text and start going back and forth,” she told a conference call Monday. reporter. “We’re trying to have a very serious, pragmatic, candid, clear, straightforward conversation to best understand each other’s concerns and priorities.”

Ms Sherman stressed that, as a first step, Russia must withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian border and take concrete steps to defuse the crisis. The longer these troops remain in place, the greater the chance of war breaking out.

But the show of force has proven to be good for Russia’s Putin, who in recent months has forced the United States and its allies to discuss Europe’s security arrangements extensively, while demonstrating that the Kremlin’s ability to play mischief and pressure its neighbors remains sizable. Russian officials argue that NATO’s expansion into its borders and Kiev’s escalating military support are at the root of the crisis.

Eastern Europe’s powder keg is a key foreign policy test for President Biden, who during his 2020 presidential campaign vowed to get tough on the Kremlin and put Mr. Putin on Russia’s aggression against its neighbors, its retaliation against the U.S. The role of cyberattacks on governments and private companies, their disinformation campaigns around the world, and other malicious acts.

Mr Biden was vice president when Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014. But the threat of a full-scale ground invasion of Ukraine by Russia poses an entirely new threat to Mr Biden and America’s allies in Europe. So far, the president has responded to the threat with harsh rhetoric and calls for direct diplomacy, including two one-on-one talks with Putin over the past few weeks in an attempt to lower the diplomatic temperature.

Monday’s meeting in Geneva is the next step in that process. NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will meet with Russian officials later this week.

During Monday’s talks, Ms Sherman said the United States had not “handled item by item” Russia’s proposal to end the border standoff. The proposal, made last month, includes requiring the United States to limit its troop presence and weapons deployment in Eastern Europe and never allow Georgia and Ukraine to formally join NATO.

The United States categorically rejected these demands. Over the weekend, the White House also strongly denied reports that it was considering scaling back troop deployments in Eastern Europe in response to Putin’s list.

But administration officials did say Washington is willing to negotiate the missile deployment and the size and scope of military exercises in Eastern Europe. Those details did not appear to have been discussed on Monday, and no serious proposals were made.

Meanwhile, Russia stands by its demands. Ryabkov, one of the Kremlin’s most experienced diplomats, told a news conference after his meeting with Ms. Sherman that Russia would not allow Ukraine and Georgia — two former Soviet republics — to never be allowed because of their insistence Join – and give in. NATO.

“The situation is very dangerous now, so I would say, we cannot delay any longer to resolve this very basic issue. As President Putin has said many times, ‘We cannot go backwards. We cannot go backwards. We have no more room for this. do,'” he said.

Foreign policy analysts say the U.S. should use this week’s meeting to pressure Russia on other issues, possibly including a new intermediate-range nuclear weapons treaty between the two countries and even a promise that Moscow will stop supporting pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian forces in the United States. The country has the disputed Donbas region.

But Mr Ryabkov said the Kremlin was reluctant to discuss any of these issues unless it received firm assurances that NATO would not expand eastward.

“If there is no progress on those critical issues that are absolutely necessary to us, then there will be problems with working on other fronts,” he said.

But he also dismissed Western warnings that Russia may be about to take military action against Ukraine.

He said that all the movements of Russian troops and weapons took place within Russia, and “there is no reason to worry about escalation related to this.”

Cloudy ahead

It is unclear where the talks came from. Without major concessions from the West, Russia has little interest in withdrawing troops from the border. Asked directly on Monday whether Russia had indicated a willingness to ease the military standoff, Ms Sherman said it was unclear.

“I don’t think we know the answer to that question,” she told reporters. “We made it clear that constructive, productive and successful diplomacy will be difficult without de-escalation, as escalation obviously increases tensions and does not create the best environment for real negotiations, which we did not do today But this is where one must eventually get to.

“We’ll see how severe they are,” she said.

Mr Biden and his diplomats faced pressure on another front as Russia hawks in Congress urged him to take a firmer stance against Mr Putin.

Politico reported Monday that a group of House Republicans is preparing to introduce a bill that would require more public and substantive U.S. support in the battle of wills between Ukraine and its larger neighbor.

Among other things, the measure would force Biden to reimpose punitive sanctions on the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is designed to bypass Ukraine to deliver Russian gas to Western markets, and authorize about $200 million in defense aid to support oil shipments in Ukraine. Navy and Air Defense.

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