High-level talks between the United States and Russia on key Ukraine and NATO issues ended Monday with no clear progress, as Russia warned again that there would be a possible backlash if its security demands were not met. .
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there was no movement on his country’s “top priority”: securing a legally binding guarantee that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would stop expanding east into the former Soviet bloc. As a result, he said, Russian military “exercises” along his country’s border with Ukraine would continue.
This, he warned, could mean tensions could rise. “The situation now is so dangerous, and therefore – I would say – uncertain that we cannot delay any further delay in the resolution of this fundamental question,” Mr. Ryabkov said at a news conference in Geneva at the conclusion of the day-long talks. American officials in a Swiss city. “The US and Russia in some ways have opposite views on what needs to be done.”
Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the US delegation, said she reiterated the US position that no outside country can be allowed to determine who joined the NATO alliance and who did not. Ms Sherman said concrete dialogue on other issues was impossible at a time when Russia had an invasion-sized army assembled near its borders with Ukraine.
Ms Sherman reiterated President Joe Biden’s warning that the US would respond to any Russian military action with tougher economic sanctions targeting Russia, as well as increased military support to Ukraine. Canada has indicated it will join any new sanctions imposed against Moscow and Ottawa is also considering a Ukrainian request for additional military assistance beyond the 200 Canadian military trainers who have been stationed in Ukraine since 2014.
The Geneva talks were inspired by Russia’s massive military build-up, which began late last year. Ukrainian and US officials say the Russian military consists of more than 100,000 soldiers within a short drive of the border backed by tanks, artillery and other equipment. The crisis will also be the focus of a special meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels on Wednesday, which will be attended by both Mr. Ryabkov and Ms. Sherman.
While Mr Ryabkov said Russia had no intention of attacking Ukraine, he claimed he was concerned about “potential provocations” that could be carried out by Ukraine, the United States or Britain in border areas. “This could lead to a situation where some clashes would be more likely.”
Russia protested each time as NATO expanded five times after the end of the Cold War, from a coalition of 16 countries in 1990 to its current size of 30. President Vladimir Putin has called for NATO’s presence in Ukraine, which shares a 2,000-kilometer-long border with Russia, a “red line.” The Kremlin-controlled media regularly compares the presence of NATO troops in the country to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which saw the world coming to the brink of nuclear war over the Soviet Union’s deployment of ballistic missiles in the Caribbean country.
Ms Sherman said Mr Ryabkov had also told her that Russia was not planning to invade Ukraine. But Moscow, she said, needs to back up those words with action. “Return the soldiers to the barracks or tell us what exercises are going on and what their purpose is. Normally no one sends one lakh soldiers to the border just to practice.”
While Ukraine is not a member of NATO, it has sought membership in the country since the 2014 pro-Western revolution. Russia responded to that turmoil by sending troops to occupy the strategic Crimean peninsula. It has also backed a militia that has taken control of Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass region, sparking an eight-year-old war that has killed more than 13,000 people.
Russia sees the 2014 revolution in Kiev – which overthrew the Kremlin-backed government of Viktor Yanukovich – as a Western-sponsored coup that brought NATO troops closer to its soil. In addition to a guarantee that Ukraine (as well as Georgia, another former Soviet republic) would never join NATO, Moscow has published a draft document calling on NATO troops to withdraw from Eastern Europe.
Ms Sherman said both Russia and the US could talk about “reciprocal” steps to ease each other’s security concerns. Such measures could include agreed limits on missile systems, or the size and location of military exercises.
But on the key issue of NATO expansion, Ms Sherman said she had clearly told Ryabkov that it was up to Ukraine to decide which countries it wanted to cooperate with, and which alliances it wanted to join. .
“We will not allow anyone to shut down NATO’s open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance,” Ms Sherman said in a conference call with reporters. “We will not abandon bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that want to work with the United States, and we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or NATO without NATO. “
The Geneva talks came just days after Russia and its allies in the Six-Nation Collective Security Treaty Organization sent thousands of troops to Kazakhstan to help the country’s authoritarian regime violently revolt. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the CSTO had shown it would not allow another revolution in the region like the one in Ukraine.
Ms Sherman said Kazakhstan was not discussed in Monday’s talks.