Russia excludes any concessions in Ukraine, security talks with the United States


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Geneva (AFP) – Russia ruled out any concessions on Sunday in talks with the United States over rising tensions in Ukraine as Moscow seeks a new far-reaching security deal with the West but faces strong pressure to withdraw its troops.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies ahead of his talks in Geneva that the Kremlin was also “disappointed” by signals coming from both Washington and Brussels, where the NATO and the European Union.

The high-level talks open a week of diplomacy in which Russia will meet with NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with the United States trying to assure its European allies that they will not be sidelined.

Since the end of last year, Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border and demanded guarantees that NATO will not expand further east.

The Kremlin insists that NATO must never grant membership to the former Soviet Ukraine, which is pushing for membership.

The United States, which will be represented by Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, agreed to the talks even though it has made it clear that many of Moscow’s proposals do not make sense.

Originally scheduled to start on Monday, Sherman is now due to have a working dinner with Ryabkov on Sunday evening, a State Department spokesperson said.

Russia insists it was cheated after the Cold War and understood NATO would not expand Alexandre NEMENOV AFP / File

“We will not accept any concessions. It is completely excluded,” Ryabkov said. “We are disappointed with the signals coming in recent days from Washington but also from Brussels.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling Moscow’s demands “gas lighting”, insisted that talks will not produce any progress as long as Russia has “a gun pointed at Ukraine’s temple” .

“We are ready to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression. But a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable if Russia chooses it,” Blinken said on Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met his US counterpart Joe Biden in Geneva in June and agreed to regular “stability” talks between Sherman and Ryabkov, who will once again head the Russian delegation.

“Massive” reprisals

In two phone calls to Putin, Biden warned of serious consequences if Russia invaded Ukraine.

The measures envisaged include sanctions against Putin’s inner circle, the cancellation of the controversial Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany or, in the most drastic scenario, the severing of Russia’s ties to the global banking system.


Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to lead high-stakes talks on Ukraine in Geneva
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to lead high-stakes talks on Ukraine in Geneva Document Permanent Mission of Russia / AFP / File

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that Washington would also send more troops to eastern NATO members such as Poland and the Baltic states if Russia invaded.

The Europeans have shown solidarity, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell visiting the front line in Ukraine, though some countries are likely to hesitate to take the most drastic measures.

“Whatever the solution, Europe must be involved,” said the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Russia insists that it was deceived after the Cold War and understood that NATO would not expand.

Instead, the US-led alliance accepted most of the former Warsaw Pact countries and the three Baltic countries that were under Soviet rule.

Russia has been putting intense pressure on neighboring Ukraine since 2014 after a revolution toppled a government that sided with the Kremlin against rapprochement with Europe.

Russia has seized the Crimean Peninsula and is supporting an insurgency in eastern Ukraine in which more than 13,000 people have died.

At a time when Russia is also stepping in to bolster its allies in the face of popular uprisings in Belarus and Kazakhstan, Moscow has insisted it wants concrete progress in talks with Washington.

Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov warned after the call with Biden that the United States would be making a “colossal mistake” if it applied sanctions.


Ukrainians hold placards in solidarity with protestors in Kazakhstan outside the country's embassy in Kiev
Ukrainians hold placards in solidarity with protestors in Kazakhstan outside the country’s embassy in Kiev Sergei SUPINSKY AFP

“A gigantic bluff”?

“It is very likely that we will encounter the reluctance of our American and NATO colleagues to really perceive what we need,” Ryabkov said on Sunday.

Despite “the threats which are constantly formulated against us (…) we will not make any concessions”, he declared, adding that this would amount “to acting against the interests of our security”.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, in a meeting with the alliance’s foreign ministers on Friday, said there remained real risks of a Russian invasion.

But John Herbst, former US ambassador to Ukraine, described the building of Russian troops as a “gigantic bluff” by Putin to seek a negotiated deal.

“They’re trying to see if the Biden administration or Europe will blink,” said Herbst, now a member of the Atlantic Council think tank.

“As long as the Biden administration remains at least as strong as it is now,” he said, “that’s probably enough to stop Putin from hitting hard in Ukraine, but I’m not ruling out something something smaller “.

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