The United States has told Russia it is ready to discuss potential limits on missile deployments and military exercises in Europe, but views Moscow's demand to bar Ukraine and other states from ever joining Nato as a complete "non-starter".
The two sides made little obvious progress in security talks in Geneva on Monday, which convened in the shadow of a major Russian troop build-up near Ukraine, which has been locked in conflict with Russia since a 2014 revolution pivoted the country towards the West.
Moscow insists it is not planning an all-out invasion of Ukraine, but Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was crucial for his country's own security to receive "cast-iron" guarantees from the West that its neighbours Ukraine and Georgia would never join Nato.
He said Russia wanted Nato to state at a summit later this year that “Ukraine and Georgia will never become members of the North Atlantic alliance...We are tired of conducting empty conversations, with half-promises and misinterpretations.
“We don’t trust the other side...We need cast-iron, legally binding guarantees – not assurances – guarantees...that they will never become Nato members.”
US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman said her delegation had been "firm in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States. We will not allow anyone to slam closed Nato's open-door policy.
“We will not forgo bilateral co-operation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States. And we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about Nato without Nato,” she added.
Ms Sherman also said Russia’s military intentions around Ukraine – where it annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and fomented a war in the eastern Donbas region that has now claimed 14,000 lives – were still a matter of great concern.
“We made it very clear that it’s very hard to have constructive, productive and successful diplomacy without de-escalation because the escalation obviously increases tensions and doesn’t create the environment for real negotiations.”
Mr Ryabkov insisted there was “no reason to fear any escalation” around Ukraine, but repeated a Kremlin warning that Russia would respond militarily to the perceived threat of any further increase in Nato’s strength close to its borders.
“If now Nato proceeds towards deployment of capabilities that are being developed very rapidly in the US and would possibly be introduced somewhere in Europe, it would require a military response by the Russian side,” he said.
Mr Ryabkov described the talks as “difficult, long, very professional, deep and specific,” but said prospects for further meetings would be decided after talks between Russia and Nato on Wednesday and at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Thursday.
Ms Sherman said the US was “open to discussing the future of certain missile systems in Europe” and “ways we can set reciprocal limits on the size and scope of military exercises and to improve transparency about those exercises.
“We had serious, straightforward, business-like, candid discussions,” said added. “We have a long way to go.”