Ahead of talks with Russia, US rules out breakthrough, issues warning
WASHINGTON: As the United States and Russia prepare for crucial bilateral talks on Monday in Geneva, the first in a series of dialogues the two countries will have under different formats this week, Washington has reiterated its warning of “massive consequences” if Russia invades Ukraine, rejected Russian proposals about a change in the NATO’s engagement with allies and partners in eastern Europe, and lowered expectations by ruling out any breakthrough in talks.
But the US has also emphasised the importance of diplomacy, opened the door for dialogue on reviving the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that bans the deployment of medium-range nuclear missile in Europe and Russia, pointed out that Russian actions were leading to precisely the outcomes that Moscow sought to prevent, and expressed willingness to address Russia’s legitimate concerns on a reciprocal basis.
On Monday, US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman will meet her Russian counterpart, deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, for bilateral talks under an extraordinary session of the Strategic Stability Dialogue in Geneva.
On Wednesday, Brussels will host a NATO-Russia council meeting for the first time since 2019. And then, on Thursday, the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) — of which both Russia and the US are members — will meet for a broader discussion on European security.
These meetings between the US and Russia come in the wake of phone conversations between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in December meant to address the crisis in Ukraine.
In television interviews on Sunday at home, when asked about consequences if Russia moved into Ukraine, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said, “We’ve been working in tremendous collaboration with European partners and allies and beyond to make it very clear that there will be massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression, by which I mean economic, financial and other consequences, as well as the NATO almost certainly having to reinforce its positions on its eastern flank near Russia, as well as continuing to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine.”
While the US has ruled out any direct military involvement, Blinken said that these would include measures that had not been undertaken in the past.
At the same time, Blinken kept the door open for dialogue and diplomacy. “I think there’s a way forward through dialogue, through diplomacy, to address whatever legitimate concerns Russia may have provided Russia also addresses our concerns,” he said.
When asked to elaborate, the US secretary of state said, “Well, look, we’ve had in the past agreements that have addressed concerns on both sides, for example, the deployment of intermediate nuclear forces in Europe. There was a treaty... There may be grounds for renewing that. Similarly, there are agreements on the deployment of conventional forces in Europe on things like the scope and scale of exercises that, if adhered to reciprocally, that is, Russia makes good on its commitments which it’s repeatedly violated, then there are grounds for reducing tensions, creating greater transparency, creating greater confidence, all of which would address concerns that Russia purports to have.”
Separately, on Saturday, a senior US administration official, while addressing possible overlapping areas, clarified what was not on the table, saying, “We have also seen reports of other things the US is open to discussing, like troop numbers or elements of force posture in NATO countries. I want to be clear that this is not on the table.”
Observers believe that the fundamental gap between the two sides stems from Putin’s clear objective of seeking to restore a wider arc of influence over regions that were once a part of the Soviet Union — a proposition that the US and the NATO have categorically rejected.
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