MOSCOW (AP) – The Kremlin said Tuesday that security talks with the United States amid tensions over Ukraine offer little cause for optimism, adding that Russia will await the results of other meetings this week before deciding whether to continue negotiations.
The head of the American delegation to the talks on Monday informed the allies in Brussels about the meeting and stressed that the security crisis was “caused by Russia” and the buildup of its troops near Ukraine.
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At the Geneva talks, Moscow insisted on guarantees to halt NATO’s eastward expansion and even curtail the deployment of a military alliance in Eastern Europe, while Washington firmly rejected these demands as hopeless.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that although the negotiations were “open, comprehensive and direct,” he stressed that the outcome is important.
“So far, let’s just say, we do not see any serious reasons for optimism,” he said during a conference call with reporters.
The Geneva talks are followed by a round of NATO-Russia talks on Wednesday in Brussels and a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.
“We still have several rounds (negotiations) ahead that will allow us to develop a clearer understanding, a clearer picture of where we are with the Americans,” Peskov said, adding that these discussions will determine whether it makes sense to continue negotiations.
He noted that Russia does not set any deadlines for negotiations, but it does not accept dragging them out either.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also stressed that Moscow expects a quick response from Washington to its demands.
The talks took place against a backdrop of growing tensions over a buildup of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, raising fears of a possible invasion. Russia denies that it has plans to attack its neighbor, but insists on legal guarantees to deny NATO membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries, as well as to curtail the alliance’s military presence in Central and Eastern Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the US and its allies fail to comply. Putin held a video call on Tuesday with members of his Security Council, stating in a short opening remarks that he would like to discuss unspecified issues related to security and infrastructure in the border areas.
The US and its allies categorically rejected the demand for NATO not to accept Ukraine or any other new members, stressing that the key principle of the alliance is that membership is open to any suitable country and no outsider has the right to veto. At the same time, Washington and NATO say they are ready to discuss arms control, confidence-building measures, increasing transparency and reducing risks if Russia takes a constructive position.
US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the US delegation in Geneva, said she had briefed the North Atlantic Council on the discussions.
“The United States is determined to work in step with our allies and partners to call for de-escalation and respond to the security crisis caused by Russia,” she tweeted.
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The United States and its allies have warned Russia that it will face unprecedented sanctions if it attacks Ukraine. European Council President Charles Michel reiterated that “we have clearly stated that in the event of a military offensive against Ukraine, there will be a massive European Union response in coordination with our partners and allies.”
Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet called Russia’s demands “completely unacceptable”, adding that he expects alliance members at Wednesday’s meeting “to make it very clear that … NATO’s collective defense remains a value that its members defend.”
Sherman’s Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov warned after Monday’s meeting that it would be difficult to make any progress on other issues if the United States and its allies thwart Moscow’s demands for guarantees against NATO expansion.
Ryabkov categorically rejected Washington’s demand for the withdrawal of Russian troops from areas close to Ukraine, saying that Moscow has the right to deploy them wherever it sees fit. The United States estimates that Russia has concentrated about 100,000 troops near Ukraine.
Amid tensions, the Russian military said on Tuesday that 3,000 troops and 300 armored vehicles are taking part in exercises at training ranges in the Voronezh, Belgorod, Bryansk and Smolensk regions near Ukraine.
In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula after toppling its Moscow-friendly leader and supported a separatist insurgency in the east of the country, where more than 14,000 people have died in more than seven years of fighting.
A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale fighting, but frequent skirmishes continue and attempts to negotiate a political settlement have been unsuccessful.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday met with French and German officials who visited Kiev after talks in Moscow last week to discuss the prospects for another quadripartite meeting of the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany on the conflict.
“The time has come for substantive negotiations to end the conflict, and we are ready to make the necessary decisions during the new summit of the leaders of the four countries,” Zelensky said.
French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that the quadripartite talks remain relevant and praised the Geneva talks, saying that “it is very good that the US and Russia are talking to each other.”
Contributions were made by Yuri Karmanov from Kiev, Ukraine, Sylvie Corbett from Paris and Jari Tanner from Tallinn, Estonia.