US-Russia lower expectations ahead of key talks on Ukraine crisis

Hard to see progress when ‘Russia has a gun to head of Ukraine’, says US secretary of state

Troops from Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces near Donetsk in   southeastern Ukraine on Sunday. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

Troops from Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces near Donetsk in southeastern Ukraine on Sunday. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

 

The United States is expected to offer to discuss missile deployment and the scope of military exercises in crucial talks this week aimed at defusing tensions over Ukraine, which western powers believe Russia may be planning to invade.

Russia said on Sunday it would not make any concessions under US pressure at the talks or in its demands for western security guarantees, and that there was a risk the talks might end quickly.

Bilateral talks between Russian and American officials regarding Ukraine will take place on Monday in Geneva. This will be be followed by a special meeting of the Nato-Russia Council (NRC) in Brussels on Wednesday and a session of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on Thursday.

Both Russia and the US appeared on Sunday to be lowering expectations ahead of the talks.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested that signals sent by the Americans ahead of the discussions “reflect a lack of understanding of what we need”.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said he did not expect breakthroughs in the talks but hoped to find some common ground. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said he did not expect breakthroughs in the talks but hoped to find some common ground. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Sunday he did not expect breakthroughs in the talks but hoped to find some common ground.

He maintained progress would be difficult, if not impossible, amid Moscow’s large military build-up at its border with Ukraine.

“To make actual progress, it’s very hard to see that happening when there’s an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders,” Mr Blinken told US broadcaster ABC.

Invasion

Washington and Kiev say the troop concentration could be a prelude to an invasion, eight years after Russia seized the Crimea peninsula.

Russia denies that it is planning an invasion and says it is responding to what it calls aggressive and provocative behaviour from the Nato military alliance. Ukraine, following the ousting of a pro-Moscow government in 2014, has tilted towards the West and has aspirations to join Nato.

Last month Russia presented a series of demands including for a bar on further Nato expansion and an end to the alliance’s activity in central and eastern European countries that joined after 1997.

The US and Nato have said large parts of the Russian proposals are a non-starter.

A senior US administration official said at the weekend that it was not for Russia to decide for other countries with whom they could be allied. However, the official said there seemed to be some areas either set out or alluded to in the Russian proposals on which progress could potentially be made.

The Biden administration has said it has no intention of placing offensive missiles in Ukraine and may also be open to talking about the future of some other missile systems in Europe.

Military exercises

The US also indicated it was willing to explore the possibility of reciprocal restrictions on the size and scope of military exercises, including strategic bombers close to each other’s territory as well as ground-based manoeuvres.

However, a senior Biden administration official on Saturday said the United States was not willing to discuss limits on US troop deployments or the US force’s posture in Nato countries in the region.

The US indicated that while it would much prefer to de-escalate the Ukraine issue diplomatically, it and its allies would impose severe costs on Russia by means of financial sanctions, export controls, enhancement of Nato forces in allied countries in the region and increased security assistance to Ukraine if it did invade.

The Biden administration official said the talks this week would be serious and concrete but exploratory in nature and that no firm commitments would be made as part of the process.