Russia-U.S. talks hit impasse over NATO expansion, but Moscow says the situation is not ‘hopeless’ 

THE United States and Russia remained deadlocked after crisis talks on Monday over Moscow’s desire to block any future NATO expansion to the east, but officials agreed to continue discussions on other high-stakes security issues that the Biden administrations hopes can avert another invasion of Ukraine.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said her team of negotiators put forward suggestions related to the scope of American military exercises and the placement of U.S. missiles in Europe, cautioning that the bilateral discussion in Geneva, the first of a series of discussions this week on Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine, was only the start to a potentially lengthy process.

“We were firm, however, in pushing back on security proposals that are simply nonstarters for the United States,” she told reporters following a seven-hour meeting. “We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, speaking to the media separately after Monday’s discussion, said there had been no progress on the Kremlin’s central demand, that Ukraine and other Eastern European nations be barred from NATO. But he signalled optimism about future discussions, a possible reflection of Russian satisfaction that its longtime desire to limit NATO’s posture has assumed a substantial if disputed, role in global talks.

“We are fed up with the loose talk, half-promises, misinterpretations of what happened at different forms of negotiations behind closed doors,” he said of potentially including Ukraine or Georgia in NATO. “We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees. Not assurances, not safeguards, but guarantees.”

“But I don’t consider the situation hopeless,” he continued. “I think the usefulness of the talks in Geneva is mainly that, for the first time, we were able to talk about issues that before existed, but as if behind the scenes.”

The Geneva talks, along with parallel discussions with European officials in Brussels and Vienna scheduled for later in the week, represent a crucial test of the Biden administration’s attempt to prove that collaboration among global democracies can prevail over authoritarianism and the defiance of international norms.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said that Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, has concentrated more than 100,000 forces around Ukraine in an apparent threat of a multipronged attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has portrayed the tensions with Ukraine and its Western allies as a security threat to Moscow, instead of demanding written guarantees from the United States and NATO that the military alliance will not expand eastward or cooperate with countries from the former Soviet Union.

The Kremlin also is calling for the removal of all NATO military infrastructure installed in Eastern European countries after 1997.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday reiterated U.S. warnings that Moscow would face “massive consequences” if it invades Ukraine. He said this week’s negotiations will test whether Putin is willing to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

“It’s clear that we’ve offered him two paths forward,” Blinken said of Putin on ABC News’s “This Week” program. “One is through diplomacy and dialogue; the other is through deterrence and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression against Ukraine. And we’re about to test the proposition of which path President Putin wants to take this week.”

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attend security talks in Geneva on Monday, Jan. 

U.S. officials have said military action against Ukraine would trigger unprecedented sanctions against Russia, including potentially cutting the country off from the global financial system. But experts have questioned the extent to which financial measures will influence Russia, which is already under sanctions for the annexation of Crimea, malign cyber activity and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and later imprisoned.

U.S. officials consider some of Russia’s demands so unrealistic that they worry Moscow is stipulating conditions it knows Washington will reject, with the aim of gaining domestic support in Russia and creating a pretext for possible military action against Ukraine. Other analysts contend that Putin has created the threat of a new Ukraine war simply to secure concessions from the United States and its allies in upcoming talks.

While building up forces on Ukraine’s border, Putin has accused the West of “coming with its missiles to our doorstep” and raised the possibility of the placement of U.S. offensive missiles in Ukraine. The two draft treaties that Russia released both proposed limits on intermediate and short-range missiles.

The Geneva talks will be followed by a special meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels on Wednesday and a session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday — chances for the United States to engage Russia together with the U.S. allies and partners.

Amid the talks in Europe this week about Russian forces posted near its western border, Russia deployed some 2,000 paratroopers in Kazakhstan — part of a Moscow-led military alliance contingent that went to the country to quell unrest that broke out last week.

While analysts have said the crisis in Kazakhstan could distract Russia, suddenly splitting Putin’s attention along two fronts, others disagree. Gleb Pavlovsky, a former top adviser to Putin, said it could make Moscow appear even more serious during negotiations this week.

“For Putin today, it is very strategically important to demonstrate Russia’s readiness to display armed force,” Pavlovsky said. “His central goal is to show that Russia is no longer peaceful. Russia doesn’t need world peace and doesn’t promise it.”

(Washington Post)

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