GENEVA, Switzerland. — American and Russian officials were holding high-stakes talks Monday about the build-up of troops near Ukraine’s border, as fears mount over a possible Russian invasion.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov began their meeting on Monday morning in Geneva, Switzerland, after holding a working dinner on Sunday evening.
The talks follow months of tension near the Ukraine-Russia frontier, where tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have massed.
“The United States is committed to the principle of ‘nothing about you, without you’ when it comes to the security of our European allies and partners, including Ukraine,” the spokesperson said. “We are lashed up at every level with our allies and partners, and we will continue to be in the days and weeks ahead.”
The global community will be closely following the discussions, which have been billed as a late attempt to avert a war on Europe’s eastern flank. On Wednesday, a Russian delegation will meet with members the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels.
But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already played down the prospects of a breakthrough. “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 to Ukraine,” Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
“We’re here because repeatedly over the last decade, Russia has committed acts of aggression against neighbors — Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine in 2014, and now the renewed threat about Ukraine today,” he added.
“It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions,” Blinken said.
The Sunday dinner between Ryabkov and Sherman was “difficult but business-like,” Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti. “Initially, it was clear that their line was to immerse our ideas, our proposals and our approaches in the technological environment from the point of view of diplomacy that has developed over the past decades.”
The State Department readout of the dinner said Sherman “stressed the United States’ commitment to the international principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the freedom of sovereign nations to choose their own alliances.”
Ryabkov said “there are no surprises for us in the approach that was at least publicly voiced by the American side before the events, we are ready for this. Let’s see what happens in the end.”
As many as 100,000 Russian troops have remained gathered near the Ukrainian border, despite warnings from US President Joe Biden and European leaders of serious consequences should Putin move ahead with an invasion. And US intelligence findings estimated last month that Russia could begin a military offensive in Ukraine “as soon as early 2022.”
Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call earlier this month that the US and its allies “will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”