No breakthrough on tense day of US-Russia talks amid fears Putin plotting Ukraine invasion

World

There has been no breakthrough in US-Russian talks aimed at calming tensions between Moscow and Ukraine.

Diplomats from the Kremlin and Washington met in the Swiss city of Geneva amid fears that President Vladimir Putin could be preparing to invade the former Soviet bloc country.

Russia wants a ban on further expansion of NATO, including a promise that Ukraine will not be admitted, and an end to the alliance’s activity in the central and eastern European countries that joined it after 1997.

Live updates as Russia issues warning after US talks

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Will Russia go to war with Ukraine?

‘Opposite views on what needs to be done’

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, who represented his country at the talks, said afterwards: “Unfortunately, we have a great disparity in our principled approaches to this.

“The US and Russia in some ways have opposite views on what needs to be done.”

More on Russia

But deputy US secretary of state Wendy Sherman said: “We were firm…in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States.

“We will not allow anyone to slam close NATO’s open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance.

“We will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States, and we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO.”

Analysis by Mark Stone, US correspondent

In the end, so often, it’s all about the language. Successful diplomacy relies on meticulously crafted, often intentionally ambiguous language that allows both sides to claim a victory.

At the moment, the unenviable diplomats sent to Geneva on behalf of their leaders in Washington DC and Moscow have failed to come up with language which allows for a breakthrough.

Read into their words today what you will. Russia described the talks as “complex and very professional”. The Americans said they were “frank and forthright”.

The Russian diplomat, the deputy foreign minister, said there was “no need to fear escalation”. That sounded positive – a Russian invasion of Ukraine off the table?

Hardly – 100,000 troops remain on the Russian side of that frigid border with Ukraine. They will be there, says Russia, until America and the West agree to demands that Mr Putin must know are undeliverable.

If America, as the lead partner in the NATO alliance, was to meet the Russian demand that Ukraine will never join NATO or that no NATO troops will ever be stationed in the newer NATO member countries, would it not render the NATO alliance pointless?

But then, what is the point of the alliance if Russia does wander into Ukraine unchallenged?

In this high-stakes game, for good measure perhaps, two sides felt the need to point out, on the record, that they both agreed that a nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought. It’s good that they agree on this; but alarming perhaps that they needed even to clarify the point.

Washington and Kyiv have said that 100,000 Russian troops are within striking distance of Ukraine and a new invasion could be launched soon, eight years after Russia seized the Crimean peninsula.

Russia denies invasion plans but has blamed NATO for what it says is aggressive behaviour.

Despite the lack of progress on Monday, both sides appeared polite towards each other, with Ms Sherman calling the discussion “frank and forthright”.

Mr Ryabkov said it was “difficult but professional”, and that the US had approached the Russian proposals seriously.

He said Russia would decide on its next move after meetings with NATO members in Brussels on Wednesday, and with officials from the Organisation For Security And Cooperation In Europe in Vienna on Thursday.

Russia carried out military drills in December as the West fears the country will invade Ukraine
Image:
Russia carried out military drills in December as the West fears the country will invade Ukraine

‘Time to call Putin’s bluff’

Former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Sky News: “If (Russian President Vladimir Putin) is to invade Ukraine, we should deliver military aid to Ukraine to make Ukraine more capable to defend herself.

“I think, in a way, he is bluffing, and the time has come to call his bluff.”

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‘Putin skilled in playing weak hand strongly’

“One lesson learned from history is that appeasement with dictators does not lead to peace,” he added.

“It leads to war or conflict.

“Putin is very skilled in playing a weak hand strongly.

“I hope the West will be equally skilled in playing our much stronger hand, better than we have in the past.”

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