On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva for discussions amid growing worries that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine. In his introductory remarks, Mr. Blinken stated, “This is a critical moment,”
He said that the US and Russia “don’t expect to resolve our differences here today” but hoped to see whether diplomacy was still a possibility. Mr. Lavrov hailed the discussions as open and fruitful thereafter.
Moscow has 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine’s borders, but denies preparing an invasion. Mr Blinken warned his Russian colleague across the table at a posh Swiss hotel of a “united, swift and severe” response if Russia took that step.
President Vladimir Putin has made demands to the West that he claims are in the interests of Russia’s security, including the denial of Ukraine’s membership in NATO. He wants the Western defence alliance to cease conducting military drills and shipping weaponry to eastern Europe, which Moscow considers its backyard.
Mr Lavrov accused NATO of conspiring against Russia in a press briefing following the meeting. He reaffirmed Moscow’s stance that it has “never threatened the Ukrainian people” and has no plans to attack the country.
He stated that the US will provide Russia with a formal answer to its security red lines “next week” Mr. Blinken is scheduled to speak to the press shortly.
Officials from the State Department suggested earlier this week that Mr. Blinken would try to provide Mr. Lavrov a “diplomatic off-ramp” to de-escalate tensions.
Mr. Blinken might give Russia more information on military drills in the region, or reintroduce missile-related limitations in Europe. These limits were originally laid out in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War-era accord that the United States abandoned in 2019 after accusing Russia of breaking it.
Russia insists that Ukraine is its first priority. It announced plans for naval drills involving more than 140 vessels and 60 aircraft on Thursday, regarded as a show of might.
On the same day, the US warned that Russian intelligence personnel were recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to act as a temporary government and work with an invading Russian military if an invasion occurred.
Two current members of Ukraine’s parliament and two previous government officials have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for their alleged involvement in the conspiracy.
Mr Blinken came in Geneva following a trip to Kyiv to demonstrate support for Ukraine and meetings in Berlin with the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
Several European countries are now working to strengthen Nato’s military presence in Eastern Europe. Spain is deploying warships to the Mediterranean and Black Seas to join Nato naval forces, while Denmark has announced it would send a frigate to the Baltic Sea. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has volunteered to send soldiers to Romania. Britain said earlier this week that it will provide Ukraine with more soldiers for training and defensive weaponry.
Mr Putin should “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a speech on Friday. On Wednesday, President Biden raised doubts about the US’s consistency on Ukraine when he bleakly predicted that Russia “will move in” on Ukraine, but appeared to hint that a “minor incursion” would elicit a softer response from the US and its allies.