Senior diplomats americans Y russians held crucial negotiations on Monday on rising tensions over Ukraine and Moscow’s security demands, with little hope of a diplomatic breakthrough.
LOOK: Time is shortening: are Russia and Ukraine on the brink of war?
The negotiations come amid fears of a Russian invasion of its pro-western neighbor Ukraine, and with Moscow demanding broad concessions from Washington and its NATO allies.
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Monday’s talks in Geneva open a week of diplomacy between Russia and the West, after Moscow accumulated tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, drawing the United States and Europe into a confrontation reminiscent of the Cold War.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov, began a meeting at the US mission in Geneva at 0855 hours (0755 GMT).
The two diplomats had already met informally in the Swiss city on Sunday night, and Riabkov later told Russian news agencies that the first meeting had been “difficult”.
– “Pessimistic forecast” –
The state news agency RIA Novosti on Monday quoted Riabkov as saying he feared Washington would not take seriously Moscow’s demand to end NATO expansion eastward.
“Are you willing to give legal guarantees that this country, as well as other countries … will not join NATO?” Riabkov said, referring to a 2008 promise by NATO to consider the accession of Ukraine and Georgia.
“I have a pretty pessimistic prognosis in this regard,” he added.
Sherman said on Twitter that talks were underway, but that there would be little progress without other participants at the table.
“The United States will listen to Russia’s concerns and share ours, but we have been clear that we will not discuss European security without our allies and partners,” he said.
– “Soviet Union 2.0” –
In the front trenches in Ukraine, where Kiev forces have been fighting pro-Russian fighters since 2014, there was little hope for diplomacy.
“I doubt anything will change,” said Mykhailo, a 29-year-old soldier, as he walked through the trenches in the city of Avdiivka, just north of the city of Donetsk, a separatist stronghold.
“The guarantees of not entering NATO will never stop” Putin, Mykhailo said, and assured that “he wants to return the Soviet Union in version 2.0.”
Both parties established firm lines. Washington warned that Moscow would face serious consequences in the event of an invasion of Ukraine and Russia demanded new security agreements with the West.
Following the talks on Monday, a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council will be held in Brussels on Wednesday, and on Thursday the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will meet in Vienna, in which it is expected let him dominate the question of Ukraine.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed on Sunday that Russia had to choose between dialogue and confrontation, and warned in statements to the CNN news network that there would be “massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression against Ukraine.” Direct military action by the United States or NATO in defense of Ukraine seems extremely unlikely.
But Western officials warned that Moscow would face significant economic and financial consequences if it invades, and could see NATO increase its presence and capabilities near Russia’s borders.
– “Severe costs” –
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that the alliance would warn Russia of the “severe costs” of an invasion and that he did not expect this week’s talks to “settle all the issues” but wanted to get the ball rolling. a diplomatic process.
“Our goal is to reach an agreement on the way forward, a process, a series of meetings,” Stoltenberg said before talks with Ukraine’s deputy prime minister in Brussels.
Among the measures being considered are sanctions on Putin’s inner circle, the cancellation of the controversial Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany or, in the most drastic scenario, the severing of Russia’s ties with the world banking system.
Russia insists that it was duped after the Cold War and understood that NATO would not expand.
Russia has exerted intense pressure on Ukraine since 2014, after a revolution toppled a pro-Kremlin government opposed to rapprochement with Europe.
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and is backing an insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people.
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