Geneva talks hinge on Russia deescalating Ukraine threat

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Geneva talks hinge on Russia deescalating Ukraine threat

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tamped down expectations for talks between Russia and the US over security guarantees, but said any progress is contingent on President Vladimir Putin defusing the military threat to Ukraine. 

“I don’t think we’re going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week,” Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re going to be able to put things on the table. Russians will do the same … and we’ll see if there are grounds for moving forward.”

Success of the talks, which begin Monday in Geneva, depend on Russian cooperation and the easing of the menacing military presence along Ukraine’s border. 

“It’s hard to see making actual progress as opposed to talking in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation – Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses,” Blinken said. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on pivotal US-Russia talks slated in Geneva this week
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about the pivotal US-Russia talks on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

And any agreements will hinge on mutual commitments, Blinken said, and the inclusion of European nations in any decision.

“Any progress that we’re going to make is going to have to happen on a reciprocal basis, by which I mean, if the United States and Europe are taking steps to address some of Russia’s concerns, Russia will have to do the same thing,” Blinken said. 

Along with the thousands of troops and military equipment Moscow has amassed on the border, Putin is also demanding that the US and its European allies never allow Ukraine or other former Soviet bloc nations to become members of NATO. 

Ukrainian soldiers Mykhailo (L) and Pavlo build a bunker on the front line on December 12, 2021 in Zolote, Ukraine
Ukrainian soldiers build a bunker on the front line on December 12, 2021 in Zolote, Ukraine.
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
A Ukrainian soldier walks through an abandoned house at a line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022
A Ukrainian soldier walks through an abandoned house at a line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Jan. 9, 2022
AP Photo/Andriy Dubchak

That issue, according to a senior administration official, is a non-starter.

“It is not up to Russia, for example, to decide for other countries who they can be allies with. Those are decisions only for those countries and the alliance itself. In the context of NATO, we refer to that as the ‘open door,’ and neither Russia nor any other country is going to slam it shut,” the official told reporters in a briefing call on Saturday.

The administration official also expressed concern over Russia’s intentions for the discussions and whether Moscow is “prepared to negotiate seriously and in good faith … or whether they will simply use this as a pretext to claim that diplomacy couldn’t address their interests, so they have to turn to other means.”

A Ukrainian soldier in a trench at the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022
A Ukrainian soldier in a trench at the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
AP Photo/Andriy Dubchak

“But Russia on Sunday appeared to be taking a hard line going into the talks, saying they could end abruptly.

“I can’t rule out anything, this is an entirely possible scenario and the Americans… should have no illusions about this,” ​Russian Foreign Minister Sergei ​Ryabkov ​said, according to Reuters.

“Naturally, we will not make any concessions under pressure and in the course of threats that are constantly being formed by the Western participants of the upcoming talks​,” he said. ​

With Post wires

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