Ukraine: US and Russia hold ‘constructive’ talks in Geneva but war fears remain

Biden warns Moscow will ‘pay a heavy price’ if it invades Ukraine, while Russia says it is ‘not afraid’ of the US

Holly Bancroft
Friday 21 January 2022 16:22
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<p>US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov </p>

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

US and Russian diplomats pledged to keep lines of communication open following urgent talks in Geneva about the growing possibility that the Kremlin will give orders to invade Ukraine.

There was no major breakthrough in the discussions between US secretary of state Anthony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday.

Russia has 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border but denies that it is planning to invade the country.

Mr Blinken said the talks were “frank and constructive” and told reporters that the United States agreed to share concerns and ideas with Russia in more detail in writing next week.

He added that Washington would be open to a meeting between Putin and Joe Biden if it would be “useful and productive”.

“Based on the conversations we’ve had,” Mr Blinken said, “I think there are grounds for a means to address some of the mutual concerns that we have about security.”

He added: “We are now on a clearer path to understanding each other’s positions”.

However he also warned that Moscow would face a “swift, severe and a united response” if it invaded Ukraine.

Mr Lavrov called the discussions “constructive and useful” and said Washington had agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands on Ukraine and NATO next week.

That could at least delay any conflict for a few days, but Mr Lavrov added: “I can’t say whether we are on the right track or not,” he told reporters. “We will understand that when we receive the US written response to all of our proposals.”

He said Russia was concerned “not about invented threats, but real facts that no one hides”, citing military aid being sent to Ukraine by Western allies.

When asked about the possibility of a summit between Biden and Putin, Mr Lavrov said “let’s not get ahead of ourselves”, adding: “President Putin is always ready for contacts with President Biden. It’s clear these contacts need to be seriously prepared.”

Hopes were dimmed ahead of the talks and on arrival, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Moscow would not be intimidated: “We’re not afraid of anyone, even not of the US.”

The country’s foreign ministry also said on Friday that Moscow was seeking the withdrawal of Nato forces and weapons from Romania and Bulgaria.

Bulgarian prime minister Kiril Petkov responded by telling parliament: “Bulgaria is a sovereign country, which made its choice long ago by becoming a Nato member”.

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Friday that any military conflict between Russia and Ukraine would be a “serious violation” of regional peace and would be unacceptable for Turkey.

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda offered his country’s support to Ukraine and said he supported the “full Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine”.

The summit between top US and Russian diplomats followed Mr Blinken’s meetings this week with the Ukrainian president in Kyiv and with EU allies in Berlin.

President Vladimir Putin has issued demands to the West, which include an assurance that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the Nato and orders for the Western defence alliance to stop military activity in eastern Europe.

President Joe Biden has said that he thinks Russia will attack Ukraine and warned that Moscow would face a “stiff price” if it did.

The US leader described a potential full-scale invasion of the country as “the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War Two”.

In Kyiv on Wednesday, secretary of state Anthony Blinken reiterated Washington’s demands for Russia to de-escalate the situation by removing its forces from the border area.

Following discussions in Berlin with British, French and German officials on Thursday, Mr Blinken said that a potential Russian invasion would “drag us all back to a much more dangerous and unstable time”.

Meanwhile Mr Ryabkov said that Moscow would not back down from its demands. He said that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine but added that receiving security guarantees from the West on the reduction of Nato activity in eastern Europe was non-negotiable.

On Thursday, the US alleged that Russian intelligence was recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to pave the way for a take over of the government in Kyiv.

The US Treasury issued a statement accusing the Kremlin of “directing its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force.”

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