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NATO-RUSSIA TENSIONS

US and Russia still at impasse after Ukraine crisis talks in Geneva

The US has said it is prepared to impose the toughest economic sanctions yet against Moscow. Lavrov, for his part, said Russia expects a written response from the US next week to its proposals on security guarantees

HANDOUT - 21 January 2022, Switzerland, Geneva: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shake hands before their talks over Ukraine, in Geneva. Photo: Ronny Przysucha/US Department of State/dpa - ATTENTION: editorial use only and only if the credit mentioned above is referenced in full.
Antony Blinken (L) and Sergey Lavrov shake hands before their talks over Ukraine, in Geneva. Photo: Ronny Przysucha/US Department of State/dpa.

The top US and Russian diplomats traded demands in a 90-minute high-stakes meeting in Geneva on Friday aimed at defusing tensions about Ukraine.

The talks at at an historic hotel on Lake Geneva capped a diplomatic blitz by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week, who also stopped in Kiev and Berlin as Washington and its allies scramble to avert a potential war on Europe's eastern flank.

Both Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had lowered expectations for the talks, and they were met. No tangible results were announced, but both said they expected discussions to continue.

Blinken said their "frank and substantive" conversation would allow for the sides to "carry forward" the diplomatic work of resolving their differences.

"So that is the choice Russia faces," Blinken told reporters afterwards. "It can choose the path of diplomacy that leads to peace and security, or the path that will lead only to conflict, severe consequences and international condemnation."

Any form of military aggression against Ukraine would be met with a "united, swift and severe response," Blinken said several times.

The US has said it is prepared to impose the toughest economic sanctions yet against Moscow.

Lavrov, for his part, said Russia expects a written response from the US next week to its proposals on security guarantees.

Lavrov was referring to a sweeping set of demands issued by the Kremlin to the United States and NATO last month. They include a promise that the Western military bloc would not expand further eastward.

NATO 'open to discussions'

NATO has said it is open to discussions, but has rebuffed Moscow's chief demand that Ukraine never be admitted and that the alliance stay out of what Russia considers its sphere of influence.

Blinken said that Washington would respond in writing to Russia while also sharing its own concerns about Russian activities. He said on Friday that US President Joe Biden was also ready for direct talks or another face-to-face meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, should that help resolve conflicts. The two presidents met in June in Geneva for their first summit.

Lavrov said further high-level talks should only come after the response is delivered.

He also once again called on the West to end the "anti-Russia hysteria" and once again said that Russia poses no threat to Ukraine.

Washington, Kiev and capitals across Europe say Russia's recent build-up of 100,000 troops and heavy equipment along the Ukraine border could be the prelude to an attack and are demanding a pull back.

Efforts to break the impasse have been in full swing for the past few weeks - including at NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and direct talks with Moscow - but have so far have not calmed tensions.

Blinken said Washington and Moscow might be able to find areas of agreement to address each other's concerns, citing increased transparency in military activities as one example.

US and Russia still at impasse after Ukraine crisis talks in Geneva
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