Prospects dim as U.S., Russia prepare to meet over Ukraine

WASHINGTON – With the fate of Ukraine and broader European stability at stake after the Cold War, the United States and Russia are conducting critical strategic talks that could shape the future of not only their relationship but the relationship between the United States and its NATO allies. . The prospects are bleak.

Although the immediate threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine will top the agenda in a series of high-level meetings starting on Monday, there are also a series of simmering but largely unrelated controversies, ranging from arms control to cybercrime and diplomatic matters. Washington and Moscow must overcome it if the tension is to ease. The recent deployment of Russian troops to Kazakhstan may cast a shadow over the entire exercise.

With so many risks and warning of the dire consequences of failure, both sides were preparing for what would be an almost unprecedented outburst of activity in Europe this week. However, the wide variation in their opening positions bodes ill for any kind of quick fix, and levels of mistrust appear to be higher than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On Saturday, US officials revealed some details of the administration’s position, which appears to fall short of Russian demands. The officials said the United States was open to discussions about limiting potential future offensive missile deployments in Ukraine and placing limits on U.S. and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe if Russia was willing to back out of Ukraine.

But they also said that Russia would face severe economic sanctions if it intervened in Ukraine. In addition to direct sanctions on Russian entities, these sanctions could include significant restrictions on products exported from the United States to Russia and potentially foreign-made products under US jurisdiction.

Russia wants the talks to result in principle for officially binding security guarantees for itself with a pledge that NATO will not expand further eastward and withdraw US forces and weapons from parts of Europe. But the United States and its allies say these are not rookies designed by Moscow to distract and divide. They insist that any Russian military intervention in Ukraine would lead to “serious consequences” that would significantly disrupt the Russian economy even if it had global effects.

In an effort to thwart Russia’s efforts to sow discord in the West, the Biden administration has done its best to ensure that neither Ukraine nor Europe more broadly will be excluded from any discussion of Ukraine’s or Europe’s security.

Biden administration officials are allowing that neither topic can be completely ignored when top US and Russian diplomats sit in Geneva on Monday before larger and more comprehensive meetings in Brussels and Vienna on Wednesday and Thursday in order to explore these issues perhaps in more depth.

However, the phrases “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine” and “nothing about Europe without Europe” have become almost cliched in Washington in recent weeks, and senior US officials have gone so far as to say they expect Russia to lie about Monday’s content. A meeting to try to inflame divisions.

“We fully expect that the Russian side will make public statements after Monday’s meeting that will not reflect the true nature of the discussions that took place,” said a senior US official who will be involved in the talks. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

This official and others have urged allies to “extremely doubt” anything Moscow says about the so-called strategic stability talks and wait until they are briefed by American participants to form opinions.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken accused Russia of “shining the light on the gas” and launching a widespread disinformation campaign aimed at blaming Ukraine, NATO and the United States in particular for the current tensions and undermining Western unity. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin is waging an all-out war on truth that ignores Russia’s provocative and destabilizing actions over the past decade.

Blinken said Friday, reviewing a list of abusive Russian activities ranging from military intervention in Ukraine and Georgia to chemical weapons attacks on Putin critics to election interference in the United States and elsewhere, cybercrime and support for tyrants.

Despite numerous conversations between President Joe Biden and Putin, including a one-on-one meeting last summer, Blinken said such behavior continues, with increased risks to the global order after World War II.

Thus, intense U.S. and Allied efforts to craft common positions on both warnings and “heavy costs” to Russia if it moves against Ukraine. While expressions of unity were imminent, Blinken was not optimistic about the prospects for success in the talks.

“To the extent that there is progress to be made – and we hope there will be – it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to make actual progress, if not impossible, in an environment of escalation by Russia,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russia has woven a narrative that it is a menacing victim of Western aggression and wants quick results from the meetings despite what appear to be insurmountable differences.

Putin has repeatedly warned that Moscow will have to take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West rejects Russia’s demands, and stressed that NATO membership for Ukraine or the deployment of coalition weapons there is a red line that Moscow will not allow. West to cross.

“We have nowhere to turn back,” Putin said last month, adding that NATO could deploy missiles in Ukraine that would take only four or five minutes to reach Moscow. “They’ve pushed us to a line we can’t cross. They’ve taken it to the point where we must simply say to them ‘Stop!”‘

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who will lead the Russian delegation to the Geneva talks in exchange for US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, said last week that it would quickly become clear whether the talks could be fruitful.

“It will become clear after the events of next week whether it is possible to achieve rapid progress and move forward quickly on the issues that concern us,” he said in an interview with the daily Izvestia.

“So far, we have heard some very abstract comments from the United States, NATO and others about some things are acceptable and others are not, and the focus on dialogue and the importance of de-escalation for Russia. There are very few rational elements in this approach due to the intense military and geopolitical developments that cannot be Stop them by NATO in the areas near the Russian border, the emergence of weapons systems there, and the activation of exercises. ”

A US official said Ryabkov and Sherman would meet Sunday evening over a working dinner to discuss topics for the next day’s talks.

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