Top American, Russian diplomats meet in Switzerland when tensions over Ukraine increase

The top diplomats from Russia and the United States were to meet in Switzerland on Friday to discuss soaring tensions over Ukraine after a string of meetings between officials on both sides over the past week yielded no breakthroughs.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Geneva for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following a swing through Europe to support US allies’ commitments to impose sanctions on Russia if an invasion of Ukraine continues.

Washington’s hopes of building a united front of opposition to Moscow were complicated by US President Joe Biden’s comments at a news conference on Wednesday in which he predicted that Russia would “move in” to Ukraine and said Moscow would pay dearly.

Appreciates the important opportunity to meet our European allies in Berlin on the ongoing Russia-caused crisis with Ukraine. We are all determined to support Ukraine and its people in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions. pic.twitter.com/ktEeejfDI3

– Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) January 20, 2022 Russia has gathered tens of thousands of troops at its borders with Ukraine, and Western states fear that Moscow is planning a new attack on a country it invaded in 2014 to annex the Crimean peninsula. Russia denies that it is planning an attack, but says it could take unspecified military action if a list of requirements is not met, including a NATO promise never to allow Ukraine.

Asked about Biden’s comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had received similar warnings for at least a month.

“We believe that they do not in any way contribute to reducing the tensions that have now arisen in Europe and can also help to destabilize the situation,” said Peskov.

In Kiev on Wednesday, Blinken tried to assure Ukraine of US support. Blinken said before meeting German, French and British officials in Berlin on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin could order an invasion immediately.

Blinken’s deputy, Wendy Sherman, and Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, also met in Geneva last week, where both sides set up seemingly incompatible positions.

Russia wants NATO to promise not to accept Ukraine as a member and to stop its expansion to the east. The US-led alliance has rejected this.

US officials have toned down hopes of concrete results from Friday’s meeting.

Blinken, who repeatedly shouted what he called Russian “disinformation” aimed at destabilizing Ukraine, said on Thursday that diplomatic efforts this week meant he could represent a divided view of Western nations for Russia on Friday and press Moscow to go back.

“This unit gives us strength – a strength that I can add that Russia cannot match,” Blinken said. “And that is why … I will be able to represent a shared view, a shared preference, from the United States and our European allies and partners to find a diplomatic way forward to de-escalate this conflict.”

“No minor intrusion” But that unity seemed to be undermined by comments from Biden, who said on Wednesday that the Western world’s response may not be unanimous if Russia only makes a “minor intrusion” in Ukraine. The comments forced administration officials to issue clarifications, but they raised doubts among US allies that Washington was willing to give Putin some room to avert a full-scale invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted a clear reprimand on Thursday, reminding “the great powers that there are no minor encroachments and small nations. Just as there are no minor injuries and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”

We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor intrusions and small nations. Just as there are no minor injuries and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as president of a great power 🇺🇦

Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 20, 2022 Orysia Lutsevych, a Ukraine analyst at the Chatham House think tank in London, said the Geneva meeting would give the United States a chance to clarify Biden’s comments.

“Hopefully, Blinken will be able to straighten out some of this ambiguity, if he has the mandate,” she said. There was a “certain irritation” on the Ukrainian side over the fact that the Western world did not turn rhetorical support into more concrete action.

But in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, residents interviewed by Reuters said they were confident of Russia’s support.

“I believe in Putin, he must help us, he must not abandon us. We all hope so. I do not know this Biden and I do not want to know him, but I believe in Russia,” said a pensioner who named her Tatyana.

(REUTERS)

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