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U.S.-Russia talks on Ukraine end after eight hours, without agreement

Skeptical American and Russian officials held eight hours of “frank and direct” talks on Monday aimed at avoiding war in Ukraine, but left with little more than a deal to keep talking.

Assistant Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, who led the US delegation to the Geneva meeting, declined to say whether she believed Russia’s assurances that it did not intend to invade the former soviet republic. And Russia has expressed its anger at the US insistence that it will not stop NATO’s expansion in Europe.

Sherman said he told his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, that Moscow must “defuse” by moving its 100,000 or so troops away from the border with Ukraine. She did not set a timetable for such action, but reiterated the US threat that if Russia invaded the neighboring country – as it did in 2014 – it would face severe economic and diplomatic sanctions.

“It’s a very difficult choice,” Sherman told reporters in a press conference call after the session ended. “We’ll see how serious they are … The Russians would tell you that [Monday’s talks] were an open offer for serious negotiation. We will see if this is the case. “

The Biden administration, already facing deteriorated relations with an increasingly aggressive Russia, said it was ready to discuss missile deployments in Europe and the size, scope and “transparency” of the joint US-NATO military exercises in the region, Sherman said. Any action taken by the United States and its allies would have been satisfied by Russian “reciprocal” action, she said.

The United States is also willing to try to revive an agreement modeled on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that was signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, but which has lapsed, Sherman said.

Limiting NATO’s expansion to exclude many Eastern European countries that President Vladimir Putin considers to be within his sphere of influence is failing, however, she said.

“We have a long way to go,” Sherman added.

Ryabkov sounded an even more pessimistic note at a parallel press conference.

He said US diplomats seemed reluctant to take Moscow’s interests into account, according to Sputnik news agency. Requirements such as banning certain countries from joining NATO are a priority “which we cannot give up”. Without progress on these issues, “work on other aspects, for all their importance, will be called into question,” Ryabkov said.

Expectations for Monday’s special meeting of the U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue on Strategic Stability had been low since long before, when in two conversations – one by phone, one by video – Presidents Biden and Putin agreed to call the meeting. ad hoc body,

The Biden administration, as well as most of Europe, is increasingly alarmed by the military movements of Russian forces which Western officials believe could be the forerunner of another invasion of Ukraine. Russia invaded in 2014 and continues to occupy the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula; Putin claims the annexed region as Russian. And Moscow supports armed separatist rebels in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. Thousands of people have been killed.

Diplomats have said it is unlikely that a rapprochement with Russia can occur as long as the threat of invasion remains alive. Asked what the West wants to see that might qualify as “de-escalation” Sherman said Russian troops along the border with Ukraine must “return to their barracks”. She has not developed.

Sherman and his entourage to continue diplomacy rounds on Tuesday, with consultations in Brussels
with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and various officials of the European Union. A session of the Russia-NATO Council will follow on Wednesday and a meeting of the Permanent Council of the 57 members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.

Sherman sought to allay accusations in Moscow and some concerns in European capitals that Washington was trying to strike deals without consulting the allies.

“We will not take decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, Europe without Europe, NATO without NATO,” she said. “As we say to our partners and allies, ‘nothing about you without you.’ “



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