Monday, May 16

Russia and the US agree to new discussions on Ukraine next week

Russia and the United States will meet again “next week” after holding “frank” talks in Geneva on Friday about the crisis around Ukraine, on whose border Russian military forces are still concentrated.

The Geneva meeting between the heads of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, and the American, Antony Blinken, is the latest in a series of diplomatic initiatives that began with two telephone conversations between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in December.

Although the tone was “frank and substantial”, according to Blinken, it also served to defuse tensions after weeks of verbal escalation.

Lavrov pointed out that he had agreed with the US Secretary of State “a reasonable dialogue” to “calm emotions” after less than two hours of meeting.

After the meeting, however, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned in a statement that if Westerners continue to “ignore Russia’s legitimate concerns” regarding NATO expansion in Ukraine and on its western border, there will be “serious consequences.” .

“This can be avoided if Washington reacts positively to our draft agreements on security guarantees,” the ministry said.

The US diplomat chief asked Russia to show that it has no intention of invading its neighbor and “a very good way to start would be to de-escalate, to push those forces back to the Ukraine border,” Blinken said.

The Kremlin denies any warlike intention, but conditions the de-escalation to the signing of treaties that guarantee the non-expansion of NATO and the withdrawal of the transatlantic Alliance from Eastern Europe.

Something unacceptable, according to the West, which threatens Russia with harsh sanctions if it attacks Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.

Blinken agreed to put “ideas” on the table next week, but did not say whether they would meet the Russians’ detailed demands. However, the American warned that there would be a response even in the event of “non-military” aggression by Russia against Ukraine.

“I don’t know if we are on the right track,” Lavrov said, while his counterpart assured: “Now we are on the right track to understand each other’s concerns and positions.”

The two diplomatic leaders agreed to meet again and Blinken did not rule out a summit between Biden and Putin. An idea that Lavrov considered premature.

“Good to know that diplomatic contacts with Russia remain active,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after the meeting.

As a sign of the complexity of the situation, Russian diplomacy chose Friday, the day of negotiations, to insist on the withdrawal of foreign troops from NATO countries that joined the Alliance after 1997.

Moscow specifically mentioned Bulgaria and Romania, although the list includes 14 countries from the former communist bloc.

Romania considered that demand unacceptable and NATO itself rejected it, alleging that such a withdrawal “would create first-class and second-class NATO members,” according to its spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.

The Ukrainian military intelligence service accused Moscow of continuing to “strengthen the combat capabilities” of the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, with tanks, artillery systems and ammunition.

Russia is considered, despite its denials, as the main supporter of these combatants and the instigator of the conflict that has left more than 13,000 dead since 2014. That same year it annexed Crimea, in response to a pro-Western revolution in Ukraine.

The president of the Russian lower house, Viacheslav Volódin, announced that the parliament will debate next week a request for Putin to recognize the independence of the two separatist territories of Donetsk and Lugansk.

The Geneva meeting completes a tour of Europe by Antony Blinken to meet with his Ukrainian, German, French and British allies.

Europeans and Americans have insisted that Moscow will face harsh sanctions if it attacks Ukraine. A threat that the Kremlin has ignored for eight years and that has not made it change its policy.

For Moscow, the main goal is to push back NATO, perceived as a threat. For Americans, a withdrawal from Europe is not an option, although the Biden administration is willing to discuss Russian fears for its security.

One possibility would be to work on the defunct nuclear disarmament treaty signed during the Cold War, which former US President Donald Trump had buried.

Meanwhile, Moscow continues to demonstrate its military might. The latest examples are military exercises in Belarus, just north of Ukraine, and large-scale naval exercises in January and February in the Atlantic, Arctic, Pacific and Mediterranean.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were also former Soviet republics, have announced they will send American-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to help Ukraine defend against “possible Russian aggression.”

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