US, Russia to try to be more diplomatic amid tensions over Ukraine – News-Herald

By MATTHEW LEE and JAMEY KEATEN

GENEVA — Top US and Russian diplomats agreed on Friday to continue talking deadlocked over Ukraine, even though their meeting produced no movement in the crisis that has seen Moscow massing tens of thousands of troops at the border and the West to speed up arms deliveries to Kiev.

With fears of an invasion of Ukraine making lofty and seemingly intractable demands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met for about 90 minutes in Geneva until the American called it a “critical moment.”

Expectations were low and there was no breakthrough.

Blinken told Lavrov the United States would give Russia written responses to Moscow’s proposals next week and suggested the two would likely meet again soon after, raising hopes that any invasion would be delayed for at least a few days. days.

Blinken said the United States and its allies remained committed to rejecting Russia’s most important demands, which were reiterated on Friday. Moscow wants NATO to promise that Ukraine will never be added as a member, that no alliance weapons will be deployed near Russia’s borders and that it will withdraw its forces from Central and Eastern Europe.

Even so, there was no indication that the US responses would differ from the outright rejections already voiced by Washington and its allies, clouding future diplomatic efforts.

“We didn’t expect any major breakthroughs today, but I think we’re now on a clearer path to understanding everyone’s positions,” Blinken said after the meeting.

Blinken said he also wanted to take the opportunity to share directly with Mr. Lavrov “concrete ideas to address some of the concerns you have raised, as well as the deep concerns that many of us have about actions of Russia”.

Blinken said Lavrov repeated Russia’s insistence that it had no intention of invading Ukraine, but that the United States and its allies were unconvinced.

“We look at what is visible to everyone, and it is deeds and actions and not words that make all the difference,” he said, adding that Russia should withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian border if it wanted to prove his point.

Lavrov, meanwhile, called the talks “constructive and helpful,” but declined to characterize American engagement.

“I can’t say whether we’re on the right track or not,” he told reporters. “We will understand this when we receive the written response from the United States to all of our proposals.”

Blinken suggested there was no wiggle room on Russia’s demands, saying firmly, “There is no trading space there: none.

The United States and its allies say Russian President Vladimir Putin knows the demands are futile, adding they are open to less dramatic measures.

Blinken said the United States would be open to a meeting between Putin and US President Joe Biden, if it was “useful and productive”. The two met once in person in Geneva and had several virtual conversations about Ukraine that proved largely inconclusive.

An estimated 100,000 Russian troops were sent to areas close to Ukraine, and others were moving around the district for training exercises with neighboring Belarus.

Western allies supplied arms and equipment to Ukraine. Britain sent anti-tank missiles earlier this week, while Baltic defense ministers released a statement saying they had received US approval to send Stinger air defense missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles to bolster Kiev’s defenses.

“Today, Ukraine is at the forefront of separating Europe from the military conflict with Russia,” Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet said. “Let’s face it, the war in Ukraine is ongoing and it is important to support Ukraine in every way possible so that it can resist the aggressor.”

The Pentagon said the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier and its strike group will participate in a NATO maritime exercise in the Mediterranean, which will continue until February 4, which has been planned since 2020, the secretary said. Pentagon press officer, John Kirby. He said officials considered going ahead with the exercise, due to ongoing tensions, and decided to go ahead.

Kirby said the exercise was not planned in anticipation of a Russian move on Ukraine and is “not designed against any of the types of scenarios that might arise with respect to Ukraine” .

On Thursday, Russia had announced extensive naval maneuvers through February, some apparently in the Black Sea.

The United States and its allies hastened to present a united front. Washington and its allies have repeatedly promised consequences such as biting economic sanctions against Russia – but not military action – in the event of an invasion.

Blinken repeated this Friday, saying the United States and its allies were committed to diplomacy but also committed “if that proves impossible, and Russia decides to continue aggression against Ukraine, to a united response , fast and severe”.

After the meeting, Blinken spoke by telephone with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to update him on his talks this week and to reaffirm American support for Kiev’s sovereignty and stress that no decision would be made without the his country’s contribution, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. He will also brief the foreign ministers of Washington’s European allies.

Biden plans to spend the weekend huddled with his national security team at Camp David, press secretary Jen Psaki said.

In other diplomatic moves, President Sauli Niinistö of Finland said he spoke by phone with Putin about European security and Ukraine, saying it was “imperative to preserve peace in Europe”, according to his office.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of NATO member Turkey, who has touted his close ties with Russia and Ukraine, has renewed an offer to mediate between the two countries. Erdogan said he planned to visit Kyiv next month, adding that he would also hold talks with Putin.

Ukraine is already in the throes of conflict. Russia seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, in a latent but largely stalemate conflict that has claimed 14,000 lives. Putin faced limited international consequences for these moves, but the West says another invasion would be different.

Blinken met with the Ukrainian president in Kiev and senior British, French and German diplomats in Berlin this week.

Blinken’s effort to underscore US unity with its allies took an apparent hit on Wednesday when Biden drew widespread criticism for saying retaliation for Russian aggression in Ukraine would depend on the details and that a “minor incursion “could cause discord among Western allies.

On Thursday, Biden sought to clarify his comments by warning that any movement of Russian troops across the Ukrainian border would constitute an invasion and that Moscow would “pay a heavy price” for such an action.

“I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin,” Biden said. “He has no misunderstanding: all assembled Russian units are crossing the Ukrainian border, it’s an invasion.”

In addition to its warnings, Washington stepped up its sanctions on Thursday by imposing new measures on four Ukrainian officials who Blinken said were at the center of a Kremlin effort begun in 2020 to undermine Kiev’s ability to “operate in a manner independent”.

The United States and its allies say countries like Ukraine are entitled to their own alliances as part of sovereign security measures, but Lavrov countered that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has also agreed that no nation can ensure its security by compromising the security of others.

In eastern Ukraine, a soldier stationed near the frontline with Russian-backed separatists called Blinken’s visit to Kyiv “very important for our country.” The soldier, who only identified himself by his first name, Serhiy, in accordance with official rules, expressed hope that if Russia attacked, “we can rely on the strength of our forces and our allies”.

___

Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Ellen Knickmeyer and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.

Christi C. Elwood