U.S. and Russia expect no breakthrough as Ukraine talks start

  • Blinken and Lavrov say they don’t expect any breakthrough
  • Lavrov wants a concrete response to Russian security demands
  • Blinken assesses whether the road to diplomacy is still open
  • Tensions are high over Ukraine after troop buildup

GENEVA, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Top Russian and U.S. diplomats downplayed any chance of resolving their differences over Ukraine in talks on Friday, but Washington hoped they would de-escalate tensions over a Russian troop buildup that has stoked fears of a new conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shook hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the President Wilson Hotel in the Swiss city of Geneva before the talks began.

“(Our) proposals are extremely concrete and we expect equally concrete answers,” Lavrov said, despite telling Blinken that he did not expect a breakthrough in the talks.

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Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border and has sent troops to Belarus for joint military exercises, wants NATO to promise not to admit Ukraine as a member and has urged the Western military alliance to stop expansion into the East. NATO has rejected the demands.

“This is a critical moment. You are right: we do not expect to resolve our differences here today,” Blinken said in his opening remarks. “But I hope and I hope that we can test if the path of diplomacy, of dialogue remains open. We are committed to walking that path, to resolving our differences peacefully, and I look forward to testing that proposition today.”

Blinken said talks should include the status of US citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, who he said were wrongly convicted of alleged crimes in Russia and should be released. The Kremlin says it does not interfere in matters of justice.

Washington’s hopes of building a united front in opposition to Moscow were complicated by comments by US President Joe Biden at a news conference on Wednesday in which he predicted Russia would “intervene” in Ukraine and said Moscow would pay for it. very expensive. read more

Western states fear Moscow is planning a new assault on Ukraine after sending forces to the former Soviet republic in 2014 to annex the Crimean peninsula. Russia denies planning an attack but says it could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.

Asked by CBS News whether Russia was bullied by Ukraine, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said arriving at the talks on a cold and windy day in Geneva: “We are not afraid of anyone, not even the United States.” .

In Moscow, the Kremlin reacted coolly to a move by the Russian parliament to recognize two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states, saying it was important to avoid steps that could escalate tensions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was important not to try to score political points in such a fragile situation. read more


Before Friday’s meeting, Blinken toured Europe to try to reinforce commitments by US allies to apply economic sanctions to Russia if it goes ahead with the invasion of Ukraine.

In Kiev on Wednesday, Blinken assured Ukraine of US support. Blinken, before meeting German, French and British officials in Berlin on Thursday, said Russian President Vladimir Putin might order an invasion imminent.

Blinken’s deputy Wendy Sherman and Lavrov’s deputy Sergei Ryabkov also met in Geneva last week, without any progress.

Referring to what he called Russian “disinformation” aimed at destabilizing Ukraine, Blinken said on Thursday that this week’s diplomatic efforts meant he could present a shared vision of Western nations to Russia on Friday.

But that unity appeared to be undermined by comments from Biden, who said Wednesday that the West’s response might not be unified if Russia makes a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. The comments prompted administration officials to issue clarifications, but raised doubts among US allies that Washington is willing to give Putin some wiggle room to prevent a full-scale invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sent out a tweet on Thursday reminding “great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief for the loss of loved ones.”

Orysia Lutsevych, Ukraine analyst at the Chatham House think tank in London, said the Geneva meeting would give the United States a chance to clarify Biden’s comments.

“Hopefully, Blinken will be able to clear up some of this ambiguity, if he has the mandate,” he said.

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Information from Simon Lewis; Additional reporting by Alexander Ermochenko in Donetsk, Mark Trevelyan in London, and by Vladimir Soldatkin and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Written by Paul Carrel; Edited by Michael Shields, Mary Milliken, Grant McCool, and Timothy Heritage

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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