Russia has downplayed threats to Ukraine in its first round of talks with the US.
Officials from both countries met for high-stakes talks in Geneva on Monday, January 10, to discuss reducing tensions after Russia amassed 100,000 Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, prompting fears of an incursion and warnings from the West.
After a meeting that lasted for seven hours on Monday, both sides agreed to continue efforts to reduce tensions.
But there was no sign of a major breakthrough. The US has said there would be sanctions if Russia were to attack Ukraine. Russia, meanwhile, has warned the US not to “underestimate the risks” involved in Moscow’s confrontation with the West.
“We explained to our colleagues that we have no plans, no intentions to attack Ukraine,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters following the meeting.
He said the Russians had told their US counterparts “that all measures for the combat training of troops and forces are carried out within our territory” and that there was “no reason to fear any escalation scenario in this regard”.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman described the talks as “frank and forthright” discussions designed to encourage a better understanding of each side’s security concerns.
This was the first time Russian and American diplomats had to discuss face to face the standoff over Ukraine, and Russia’s demands for Nato to step back from eastern Europe.
Yet the gap between both sides is large. The US urged Russia to de-escalate the situation and remove its troops from Ukraine’s border of it didn’t want to attack Ukraine but it received no assurance that would happen.
Russia demanded that Nato should give a cast-iron guarantee it would never offer membership to Ukraine, a demand the US rejected outright.
The US said if could limit it’s military exercises with Baltic states and missile deployments to Ukraine but there was no sense this would be enough for Russia.
Sherman said the US had pushed back on Russian proposals that were “non-starters” for the US government, including Russia’s demand that Nato commit to never include Ukraine in the alliance.
“We will not allow anyone to slam closed Nato’s open-door policy, which has always been central to the Nato alliance,” she said.
According to Sherman, the US delegation told the Russians that any invasion would be met with “significant cost and consequences well beyond what they faced in 2014” when Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine.
These measures could include sanctions against key financial institutions, export controls, “enhancements of Nato force posture on allied territory” and increased security assistance to Ukraine, she added.