Breakthrough on Ukraine unlikely as US, Russia talks get underway in Geneva

Talks between US and Russian diplomats begin in Geneva on Monday after weeks of rising tension over Russian troop deployments near the border with Ukraine, with veteran envoys on each side trying to avert a crisis.

Talks between the United States and Russia get underway in Geneva, Monday 10 January 2022.
Talks between the United States and Russia get underway in Geneva, Monday 10 January 2022. © Reuters

On Monday, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the number two official at the US State Department, will face Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Combined, the two envoys have more than half a century of diplomatic experience.

Russia, which deployed nearly 100,000 troops close to its border with Ukraine, says it is not preparing for an invasion but wants to see the West back off from its support for Ukraine’s government and halt the eastward expansion of the Nato military alliance.

Washington has already dismissed some of Moscow's demands as untenable, making a swift resolution to the impasse unlikely.

US and Russia pitch their battle

Speaking last week, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a press briefing that the US approach would be pragmatic and results-oriented: “We’re not responding to them point-by-point."

In a recent phone call between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, Biden reiterated that the US and European allies would impose unprecedented sanctions if Russia chose to invade Ukraine.

Putin responded that sanctions could lead to a "complete breakdown in ties."

For Russia's part, Ryabkov has said that Russia's approach was necessarily tough, because its previous attempts at persuasion had been fruitless.

Ryabkov repeated Moscow's demands for a halt to NATO's enlargement, no deployment of its weapons systems in Ukraine and an end to "provocative" military exercises.

Other officials will also play lead roles when the talks move to Brussels for a NATO-Russia meeting on Wednesday and a meeting hosted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Thursday.

Europe must be included

Meanwhile on Friday, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen insited that negotiations to resolve tensions between Russia and Ukraine must involve Europe.

Speaking ahead of the talks in Geneva, Von der Leyen told a press conference in Paris: "One thing is clear: no solution without Europe. Whatever the solution, Europe has to be involved."

Her comments came as French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Russia of trying to bypass the European Union by holding direct talks with the United States over Ukraine.

With France having just taken over the six-month rotating EU presidency, Le Drian underlined that: "You can't envisage EU security without the Europeans."

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