US-Russian talks show little overall progress amid Ukraine crisis

U.S. and Russian negotiators held their first security talks since Russia’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops to the Ukrainian border raised fears of an invasion, but left Monday’s talks saying they did not had failed to narrow their differences.

Although both sides called the talks pragmatic, they remain at odds with Moscow’s demands that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the post-war military alliance of Western powers, stop its expansion in China. Europe, and the United States’ insistence that Russia withdraw more than 100,000 Russian troops deployed near the Ukrainian border.

The build-up of troops has raised fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to invade a country he considers to be part of Russia’s sphere of influence or generates a crisis to extract security concessions from the West.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia had “no intention of attacking Ukraine” and that the West did not have to fear “any kind of escalation”.

But many American officials believe the opposite.

“We believe the threat of invasion is real,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on “NBC Nightly News” after the talks concluded.

In a briefing with reporters after the round ended on Monday, Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who was leading Washington, said: “We’re only at the beginning and we don’t know where yet. it all leads us. “

Mr Ryabkov described the talks as “difficult, long, very professional, specific, without any attempt to embellish anything, to get around tight corners”.

But, he added, “the main issues are unresolved and we do not see the willingness of the American side to resolve them in a way that suits us.”

Ukrainian forces on the Russian-backed rebel separation line near Avdiivka in the southeastern region of Ukraine on Saturday.


anatolii stepanov / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Few expected much progress from Monday’s talks in Geneva, as the two sides arrived at the meeting with very different goals. The United States hoped to ease tensions over Ukraine by involving the Russians in talks about medium-range missiles in Europe and the scope of military exercises. Russia, meanwhile, said its aim was to remake post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe by halting NATO expansion, reducing alliance ties with Ukraine. and parts of the former Soviet Union, and severely restricting military deployments to the territory of the eastern part of the alliance. European members.

The differences were posted immediately in separate press conferences the two sides gave after the nearly eight-hour meeting.

“We will not allow anyone to slam the closure of NATO’s open door policy, which has always been at the heart of the NATO alliance,” Ms. Sherman said.

Mr Ryabkov replied: “It is very important that Ukraine can never join NATO in the future. We need iron, legal obligations, not promises, but guarantees… It is a matter of Russian national security.

An important goal for US officials was to determine whether Russia was ready to continue easing tensions on terms NATO could agree to, or whether it kept open its military options for attacking Ukraine.

“It doesn’t seem like they found an answer to that question,” said Angela Stent, a member of the Brookings Institution and former US national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia.

“Nobody came out of the talks. The question will be how much Russia insists on demands that NATO considers non-negotiable. ”

Dimitri Simes, chairman of the Center for the National Interest, a Washington think tank, said Ryabkov will share his views with the Kremlin on whether Russia can meet its goals with further negotiations.

A military escalation along the Ukrainian border further strained ties between Russia and the United States, after clashes over cybercrime, expulsions of diplomats and a migrant crisis in Belarus. The WSJ explains what is driving the wedge between Washington and Moscow. Composite Photo / Video: Michelle Inez Simon

“The question is how this information will be interpreted in Moscow, in particular by Putin’s entourage, in particular the siloviki – members of the military and security services who have particular influence in decision-making at this stage.” , said Mr. Simes.

The American and Russian sides have also outlined divergent timetables for the continuation of the talks. Ms. Sherman said arms control and other security issues are complicated and cannot be negotiated in a matter of weeks. Mr Ryabkov said the Russian requests must be dealt with urgently and that “we cannot afford any further delays”.

“We hope to be in contact with the Russian Federation again in the coming days to determine when and how this conversation will unfold,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, referring to bilateral talks between the United States and Russia.

Some of the security issues will also be taken up on Wednesday in Brussels at a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a forum for consultations with Moscow. Ms. Sherman and Mr. Ryabkov will lead their national delegations to the session. This will be the first time the board meets in more than two years.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna on Monday that the organization hoped for an agreement on the way forward.

The US-Russian talks

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“I really hope that there is a real will on both sides … to engage in a process which prevents a new armed conflict in Europe,” he said.

On Thursday, talks will be held in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a multilateral forum that includes Russia and Ukraine.

Regional issues, including unrest in Kazakhstan and the deployment of Russian-led troops there, were not addressed in talks on Monday, Ms. Sherman said.

The Biden administration’s willingness to discuss the limits of land-based intermediate-range missiles is a significant change for Washington.

The Trump administration had rejected Mr. Putin’s proposals for a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe, saying such a move could rule out American options without leading to the elimination of the 9M729, a missile from Russian cruise launched on the ground. the United States claims it violated the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Russian officials have said Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine, but also added that Mr Putin will consider options prepared by his military experts if diplomacy fails or the West continues what they call his “aggressive line”.

If Russia does invade, US officials are considering a range of options, including leveraged sanctions on exports to Russia, such as semiconductors used in advanced technology, as well as increased military support for Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.

Write to Michael R. Gordon at [email protected], William Mauldin at [email protected] and Ann M. Simmons at [email protected]

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