Military exercises and the deployment of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border were on the agenda for Monday’s US-Russia talks in Geneva, led by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
Moscow is making massive demands that NATO reduce its presence in Eastern Europe and not accept Ukraine as a member – demands that the US and Europe cannot accept.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken noted, “It is of course part of the guidelines, to issue a list of demands that are completely ignored then claim that the other side refuses and use them as justification for their aggressive actions. But in fact, Russia knows what a nonstarter is. But there are also areas, subjects and issues where we can engage, have dialogue, and see if we can improve the overall security of all parties.”
Russia says it is not preparing to attack Ukraine, its neighbor in the Soviet Union. Russia insists NATO’s expansion is a threat to its security.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated, “’Not an inch to the East. That’s what we were told in the 1990s. And what happened? Obviously, we were conned.”
The first round of talks is likely to lead to multiple complaints and is unlikely to produce any certainty regarding Ukraine.
John Tefft, former US ambassador to Russia and Ukraine via Skype elaborated, “Regarding Ukraine, I don’t think anyone knows exactly what President Putin had in mind. The Biden administration, I think, has done its best, not only to rally allies to coordinate policy, it also signaled to Russia its intention to impose sanctions that are harsher enough to go beyond the sanctions imposed in the past.”
While Putin tries to stay focused on Ukraine, anti-government protests in Kazakhstan, Russia’s other neighbour, have killed dozens and injured hundreds.
Moscow has sent troops to help crack down on the unrest, in response to a request by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. It’s not clear why Tokayef asked Moscow for help, US Secretary of State Blinken told VOA.
The White House has denied reports of options being developed to withdraw US troops in Eastern Europe ahead of the talks. Following the Geneva meeting, NATO and the Russian Council will meet in Brussels, January 12, 2022. The broader format talks covering the US, NATO, Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet countries are scheduled to continue in Vienna on January 13. [mg/ka]