Skeptical U.S. and Russian officials Monday held eight hours of “frank, forthright” discussions aimed at averting war in Ukraine but came away with little more than an agreement to continue to talk.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation in the Geneva meeting, declined to say whether she believed Russia’s assurances that it has no intention of invading the former Soviet republic. Russia expressed anger at the U.S.’s insistence on NATO expansion in Europe.
Sherman said she told her Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, that Moscow must “de-escalate” by moving its estimated 100,000 troops away from the border with Ukraine. She did not set a timetable for such action but repeated the U.S. threat that if Russia invades the neighboring country — as it did in 2014 — it will face severe economic and diplomatic sanctions.
“It’s a very stark choice,” Sherman told reporters in a telephone news conference after the session concluded. “We’ll find out how serious they are …. We will see if that is the case.”
We will see if that is indeed the case.”
The Biden administration, already confronting deteriorated relations with an increasingly aggressive Russia, offered that it was prepared to discuss missile deployments in Europe and the size, scope and “transparency” of joint U.S.-NATO military exercises in the region, Sherman said. She stated that any steps taken by the U.S. or its allies would be countered by Russia’s “reciprocal” actions. The U.S. would also like to see a re-negotiated agreement similar to the Intermediate -Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed by President Reagan (and Mikhail Gorbachev) but has since expired, Sherman stated.
Limiting expansion of NATO to exclude many of the Eastern European nations that President Vladimir Putin considers to be part of his sphere of influence, however, is a non-starter, she said.
” We have a long way yet,” Sherman said.
Ryabkov sounded an even more pessimistic note in a parallel news conference.
He stated that the American diplomats were not willing to consider Moscow’s interests according to the Sputnik news agency. Ryabkov stated that demands such as excluding certain countries from NATO membership are a priority and “that we cannot reverse.” He also said that work on other important aspects would be affected if they don’t make progress.
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Expectations for Monday’s special meeting of the U.S-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue were low from well beforehand, when, in a pair of conversations — one by phone, one by video — Presidents Biden and Putin agreed to convene the ad hoc body,
The Biden administration, along with most of Europe, is increasingly alarmed at military movement by Russian forces that Western officials worry could be the precursor to another invasion of Ukraine. Russia invaded in 2014 and continues to occupy Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula; Putin claims the annexed region as Russian. Moscow also supports the separatist rebels in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas. Many people have been killed.
Diplomats have said it is unlikely any rapprochement with Russia can occur as long as the threat of invasion remains alive. When Sherman was asked what the West would like to see to de-escalate the threat of invasion, Sherman replied that the Russian troops at the border with Ukraine must “return to the barracks.”
Sherman and her entourage will continue the rounds of diplomacy on Tuesday, with consultations in Brussels
with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and various officials from the European Union. A session of the Russia-NATO Council follows on Wednesday, and a meeting of the Permanent Council of the 57-member Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.
Sherman sought to allay accusations in Moscow and some concerns in European capitals that Washington was attempting to make deals without consultation of the allies.
“We won’t make decisions about Ukraine and Europe without Europe or NATO without NATO,” she stated. “As we say to our partners and allies, ‘nothing about you without you.’ “