Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

Russia has warned that it will step down from diplomatic efforts to end the crisis over Ukraine if the West continues to ignore demands for security guarantees, but agrees to extend its talks with the West until this week.

There was no breakthrough in Geneva after nearly eight hours of talks between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in which the US side presented new ideas on arms control.

But there was also no interruption in talks that Russia had warned could lead to military action if its red lines were not adhered to. With 100,000 Russian troops assembled along its border with Ukraine, fears of conflict have worsened.

The US and NATO have Moscow’s biggest demand for a ban on NATO enlargement. Sherman said Russia still has a choice between diplomacy and escalation – with the outcome still in the balance.

“If Russia steps away from the diplomatic path, it can be very clear that they were never serious about pursuing diplomacy,” she said.

Ryabkov said Moscow “will assess any further steps and the prospects of all this work and make appropriate decisions based on the results of events yet to come in the coming days” on whether it was worth continuing talks.

Russia began warning that day that it would walk away from the talks if the West continued to ignore his demands on the expansion of NATO. Russian officials will hold talks with NATO on Wednesday in Brussels and on Thursday in Vienna with the 57-member Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Sherman said she would then “have further talks with the Russian government later this week and decide on the best way forward”.

She described the talks as “serious, straightforward, frank discussion”.

However, Ryabkov made no promise of de-escalation, saying military movements within Russia “will continue, because that is what is absolutely necessary to maintain the necessary level of operational readiness of our armed forces in a situation where Russia’s security environment has changed. dramatic for the worse ”.

Russia denies this is plans to invade Ukraine and says its deployment of troops and equipment near the borders is an exercise.

“Send the troops back to barracks or tell us what exercises are going on and what their purpose is,” Sherman said. “If Russia stays on the table and takes concrete steps to reduce tensions, we believe we can make progress.”

Sherman said she had put forward proposals for new arms control talks on missile deployment and new missile systems and for restrictions on the size and scope of military exercises. There was no discussion of US troop levels in Europe, which “was not on the agenda for today”, she added.

The proposals could include a replacement for the Intermediate Reach Nuclear Powers Treaty, from which the U.S. withdrew in 2019 after Russian violations.

But Sherman said it was an exchange of ideas rather than detailed negotiations that “can not be completed within a matter of days or weeks”.

Moscow last month issued several demands to reform European security, including a ban on further NATO enlargement and on NATO’s military activities in former communist bloc members. It has since issued increasingly belligerent threats if its red lines are not met.

Ryabkov said Russia “could not withdraw” from its demand for a promise that “Ukraine and Georgia will never, ever become members of NATO”.

“We are fed up with loose talk. Half promises, misinterpretations. . . We do not trust the other side, so to speak, “he told reporters. “We need iron-clad, waterproof, bulletproof. . . guarantees. Not safety precautions. Guarantees.”

Ryabkov reiterated his threat that European security would suffer if no agreement was reached: “After every mistake, every miscalculation. . . the security of countries in western Russia is suffering. “

The US has threatened to impose bruising economic, financial and trade sanctions against Moscow if it invades Ukraine, and says those measures will obscure the punishment imposed on Russia after the 2014 attack on Crimea. Sherman repeated that warning Monday.

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