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US, Russia meet for talks amid tensions linked to Ukraine

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The US and Russia launched special talks on strategic stability on Monday as part of a flurry of diplomatic activity in Europe this week aimed at defusing tensions over a Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine, though no major breakthrough was immediately in sight, according to AP News.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and his delegation arrived under Swiss police escort at the U.S. diplomatic mission for face-to-face talks with Wendy Sherman, the US deputy secretary of state and her team.

The meeting is part of “Strategic Security Dialogue” talks on arms control and other broad issues launched by Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin during a June summit in the Swiss city.

After an informal working dinner on Sunday, Ryabkov predicted “difficult” talks in Geneva that are to be followed by a NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and a meeting of the multilateral Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.

Moscow has sought to wrest a string of concessions from the US and its Western allies, including guarantees that NATO will no longer expand eastward into former Soviet states like Ukraine, along whose border Russia has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops in steps that have raised concerns about a possible deeper military intervention there.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said that during Sunday’s dinner 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,” a reference to Ukraine and its aspirations of joining NATO.

Sherman “affirmed that the United States would welcome genuine progress through diplomacy,” Price said in a statement.

The US has played down hopes of significant progress this week and said some demands like a possible halt to NATO expansion go against countries’ sovereign rights to set up their own security arrangements, and are thus non-negotiable.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that he doesn’t expect any breakthroughs in the coming week. Instead, he said a more likely positive outcome would be an agreement to de-escalate tensions in the short term and return to talks at an appropriate time in the future. But the U.S. will have to see a de-escalation for there to be actual progress.