US agrees to respond to Russian demands during Geneva talks

Written demands to US to include pledge that Nato troops would exit Romania and Bulgaria

US secretary of state Antony Blinken (left) and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The diplomats had a frank exchange of views during talks. Photograph: EPA

US secretary of state Antony Blinken (left) and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The diplomats had a frank exchange of views during talks. Photograph: EPA

 

US secretary of state Anthony Blinken has promised Russia written responses to its concerns over Ukraine, but insisted Washington would not engage in negotiations with Moscow over sovereign rights it considers under threat.

After a “frank” meeting in Geneva, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said he was open to further talks with western countries, whom he accused of spreading “hysteria” over the Russia-Ukraine stand-off.

“This was not a negotiation but a candid exchange of concerns and ideas,” said Mr Blinken, promising a “swift, severe and a united response” to any invasion of Ukraine. “There are certain issues and fundamental principles that the United States and our partners and allies are committed to defend, that includes those that would impede the sovereign right of the Ukrainian people to write their own future.”

Mr Lavrov expressed satisfaction that the US had agreed to answer Russian concerns in writing and insisted Moscow had “never once threatened the Ukrainian people”.

“We again tried to bring to the forefront problems on the Russian-Ukrainian border as the main issue, they tried to present de-escalation as the main thing, repeated like a mantra,” said Mr Lavrov. “I cannot say whether we are on the right track or not, we will understand that when we receive the US written response to all of our proposals.”

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With up to 100,000 Russian soldiers and tanks massed on its border with Ukraine, US president Joe Biden warned this week that Moscow could invade Ukraine at short notice.

Ahead of the Geneva meeting, following protest from Kyiv, Mr Biden retracted a remark that appeared to link the severity of sanctions Russia would face to the scale of any incursion into Ukrainian territory.

In Geneva, Mr Blinken said the president was “fully prepared” to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin again – either again in Geneva, elsewhere or via video conference.

“If we conclude, and the Russians conclude, that the best way to resolve things is through further conversation . . . then we’re certainly prepared to do that,” added the US chief diplomat.

Written demands

He also repeated that the US and its Nato allies would not meet a key Russian demand to block alliance access to Ukraine and other would-be members.

Russian officials said on Friday that their written demands to the US will include a guarantee that Nato troops would leave Romania and Bulgaria, alliance members since 2004 and, before that, members of the defunct Warsaw Pact and the Soviet sphere of influence.

After a further week of high-end diplomacy – in Geneva, Berlin and Kyiv – Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg invited Moscow to send officials to a second meeting of the Nato-Russia council to hear the alliance’s detailed plans on arms control, including intermediate missiles and cyberwarfare.

On Friday UK foreign secretary Liz Truss said the Kremlin had “not learned the lessons of history” and warned of a post-invasion “terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and the conflict in Chechnya”.