As talks heat up, Moscow and Washington brace for next moves on Ukraine

A week of talks between Russia and the West that began with cautious optimism came to a halt amid talks over deadlocks and the ‘drumbeat of war’ as both sides retreated to their capitals to consider the following.

“The meetings themselves over the past two days have not resulted in a big change in the intelligence picture we see” around Ukraine, said NATO’s top military official, Admiral Rob Bauer, to reporters in Brussels on Thursday afternoon, suggesting the continuation of a crisis without clear ways out.

Few major breakthroughs were expected this week as US, European and Russian diplomats discussed Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border and Moscow’s demands for NATO to withdraw its presence in the Baltic and Eastern Europe. East. . But the meetings have produced little more than complaints from both sides that there is almost no common ground from which to move forward.

“The United States and its allies are actually saying ‘no’ to key elements of these texts,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian television on Thursday after a second round of talks in Vienna. . “It’s called a stalemate.”

Michael Carpenter, the US representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, left Thursday’s meeting concluding that “the drumbeat of war is ringing loudly and the rhetoric has become rather strident.”

Around 100,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s eastern border, including newly built bases equipped with tanks, mobile rocket systems and armored vehicles that could reach the border within hours.

Russia’s demands to permanently ban Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO and return the alliance to its pre-1997 position – freezing small former Soviet satellite countries in the Baltics – are rejected both in Washington and in Brussels. A draft “treaty” outlining these demands, released by Moscow in December, became the guiding document for Russian negotiations.

“It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than at any time in the past 30 years,” OSCE Chairman Zbigniew Rau said before the Thursday meeting.

“It definitely gets harder from here. There doesn’t seem to be a clear process as to the way forward, let alone substance,” said Samuel Charap of the RAND Corporation.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called Thursday’s week of talks “frank and straightforward” and “helpful,” and he said the United States “will now reflect and consult with allies and partners on the way of proceeding”. No date has been set for further talks with Russia, he added.

“We’re ready anyway,” Sullivan told reporters during a White House briefing. “We stand ready to make progress at the negotiating table…and we stand ready to take necessary and appropriate action to defend our allies, support our partners, and respond vigorously to any naked aggression that may arise.”

He added that the White House planned to share information collected by the US intelligence community pointing to a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at “manufacturing the pretext for an invasion” of Ukraine.

Sullivan repeatedly refused to “put a chance” on a possible Russian incursion, but he acknowledged “that the threat of military invasion is certain to be high”. He also said the US intelligence community “did not assess that the Russians had definitely decided on a military course of action” in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Thursday and reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine – “including ongoing efforts to build capacity Ukrainian forces through the provision of defensive assistance,” according to a Pentagon reading of the appeal.

And in a direct appeal to Americans to care more about the escalating security situation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Thursday that the crisis is “even bigger than Ukraine.” There are basic principles at play here.

If the United States allows Russia’s aggression “to take place with impunity, it will undermine the entire international system,” Blinken said in an interview on MSNBC. “Other countries will hear the message. They will act the same way. And that’s a recipe for tension, for conflict, for war.

Moscow’s position is that NATO troops in Ukraine and the country’s possibility of one day joining the alliance are red lines that threaten Russian security – a claim that President Vladimir Putin says leaves no room for doubt. Moscow has no choice but to act.

These arguments have been dismissed by NATO officials, who say that while there is a path for Kiev to join the alliance, persistent corruption within the Ukrainian government and the need to further modernize its military means that any decision becoming a Member State is years away, at best.

Russia has also complained that NATO troops in Ukraine pose a threat, although there are only a few hundred stationed at a base in the far west of the country, focused on training troops. Ukrainians.

The Kremlin arms and supplies pro-Russian Ukrainian forces in the east of the country, a cadre that includes Russian special forces, paramilitary units and mercenaries.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have embarked on a rapid military modernization drive in recent years, purchasing air defense and anti-tank weapons to deter Russian aggression. NATO has also established forward bases with thousands of troops led by British, French and Canadian detachments, with regular exercises that routinely involve hundreds of American troops and heavy equipment.

Russia has demanded that these exercises be reduced or stopped, a point on which the American negotiators have said they are open to discussion.

A Baltic diplomat, who asked to speak anonymously due to tension in the region, told POLITICO his country sees the drills as essential to its own defense plans.

“It is the fundamental prerogative of the NATO alliance to decide where, how and when it conducts its exercises,” the diplomat said. “Looking ahead to 2022, all exercises will obviously go ahead as planned before Russia makes any request.”

The countries on Russia’s periphery have been assured that their place in the alliance is secure and “we have no doubts about the commitment of the allies to the presence of NATO in the Baltic states”, added the diplomat.

The inflexible attitudes have left the immediate future of further discussions hanging in the air. “I don’t see any reason to sit down in the next few days, meet again and have those same discussions again,” Ryabkov said on Thursday.

As talks die down, Moscow and Washington brace for next moves on Ukraine appeared first on Politico.

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