Russian diplomat expects ‘difficult’ week of talks with US over Ukraine

A senior Russian diplomat expected «difficult» talks with the United States after attending a dinner with US officials in Geneva yesterday as part of the kick-off of a series of meetings this week.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, and other Russian officials met for more than two hours with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, head of the US delegation, and her team at the residence of the US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament.

The dinner was a prelude to a broader discussion between the two teams at the US mission in Geneva starting today – culminating in a series of virtual and in-person meetings between US officials, their Western allies and Russian leaders in recent days and weeks due to the tensions. Because of the growing Russian pressure on Ukraine.

«We are immersed in the substance of the upcoming issues, but the talks will be difficult,» Ryabkov told reporters as he left the dinner meeting.

“It can’t be easy. They will be like business. I guess we won’t waste our time tomorrow.”

The talks are seen as a first step toward reviving dialogue as relations deteriorate because Russia has deployed an estimated 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine. Concerns have been raised about a broader Russian military incursion into the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has drawn up a list of demands, such as seeking guarantees that the NATO military alliance will not seek to expand eastward into countries like Ukraine or Georgia, two former Soviet republics.

“The Russian side came here with a clear position that contains a number of elements that, in my opinion, are clearly understood and formulated, including at a high level, so that it is simply not possible to deviate from our approaches,” Ryabkov said. .

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Asked if Russia was ready to compromise, he said: «The Americans should prepare for a compromise.»

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told ABC TV this week on Sunday that he does not expect any breakthrough in talks at bilateral talks in Geneva or during talks in Brussels, at a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council and at the Organization of Cooperation. and Security in Europe in Vienna later this week.

The United States and other Western allies have pledged «exorbitant costs» to Russia if it moves against Ukraine.

«The question now is whether President Putin will take the path of diplomacy and dialogue or seek confrontation,» Blinken said.

«If Russia commits renewed aggression against Ukraine, I think it is very fair for NATO to strengthen its positions along its eastern flank, the countries neighboring Russia.»

Ryabkov said Russia was participating in the talks seeking a clearer understanding of the US position, and cited indications from Washington that some Russian proposals could be discussed.

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He outlined Russia’s three demands: no further NATO expansion, no missiles on Russia’s borders, and no military maneuvers, intelligence operations or infrastructure outside the 1997 borders.

US officials said Saturday they were open to opening discussions about limiting potential future offensive missile deployments in Ukraine and placing limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe — if Russia is willing to pull back from Ukraine.

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But they warned of harsh economic sanctions in the event of Russian interference, including direct sanctions on Russian entities, restrictions on products exported from the United States to Russia, and potential foreign products under US jurisdiction.

Ambassador Thomas Greminger, director of the Swiss government-backed Geneva Center for Security Policy who hosted Ryabkov at the Geneva conference in October, said the Geneva talks were «an opportunity to express common concerns, to articulate common expectations.»

But it would be too early to expect any clarity, for example, regarding Ukraine’s candidacy for NATO membership.

«What we’re seeing is a lot of situations,» Greminger added. «I think in the end, both Putin and [US President Joe] Biden has absolutely no interest in pushing for escalation.»

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