US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met for talks in Geneva yesterday.
‘This is a critical moment,’ Blinken said in his opening remarks.
The US and Russia ‘don’t expect to resolve our differences here today’, he added, but hoped to test whether diplomacy was still a viable option.
Speaking afterwards, Lavrov described the talks as open and useful.
Moscow has 100,000 troops near its borders with Ukraine, but denies planning to invade.
It is demanding that the US-UK NATO alliance agrees that it will not set up NATO bases in the Ukraine, which Russia would regard as an act of war.
Across the table in a luxury Swiss hotel, Blinken warned his Russian counterpart of a ‘united, swift and severe’ response if Russia intervened militarily in the Ukraine.
At a press conference after the meeting, Lavrov accused NATO of working against Russia. He reiterated Moscow’s position that it has ‘never threatened the Ukrainian people’ and has no plans to attack Ukraine.
The US will present Russia with a written response to its security red lines ‘next week’, he added.
Russia maintains that Ukraine is its primary focus. On Thursday it unveiled plans for naval drills involving more than 140 warships and more than 60 aircraft, seen as a show of strength.
Several European nations have now moved to bolster NATO’s military deployment in eastern Europe.
Spain is sending warships to join NATO naval forces in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and Denmark also said it would send a frigate to the Baltic Sea.
French President Emmanuel Macron has offered to send troops to Romania.
President Biden had triggered alarm about the consistency of the US line on Ukraine on Wednesday, when he bleakly predicted that Russia ‘will move in’ on Ukraine, but appeared to suggest a ‘minor incursion’ could attract a weaker response from the US and its allies.
The message drew a rebuke from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who tweeted: ‘There are no minor incursions. Just as there are no minor casualties and no little grief from the loss of loved ones.’
The same day, the US warned that Russian intelligence officers had been recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to step in as a provisional government and cooperate with an occupying Russian force in the event of an invasion.
The US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on two current Ukrainian members of parliament and two former government officials accused of being part of the plot.
Earlier this week, Britain announced it was supplying Ukraine with extra troops for training and defensive weapons.
In a speech on Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called on Putin to ‘desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake’ that would lead to terrible loss of life.
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