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Russia threatens to scuttle talks with U.S. if there is no swift acceptance of its security demands

Sergei Ryabkov, left, and Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s deputy foreign ministers, during a news conference in Geneva on Jan. 10, 2022. (Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg)
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Russia may halt security talks with the United States unless Washington swiftly accepts its demand that Ukraine and Georgia not be allowed to join NATO, the Kremlin spokesman warned, saying Moscow would soon decided whether there was “any sense” in continuing.

Dmitry Peskov said there was little reason for optimism ahead of a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the crisis. U.S. and Russian officials met Monday to seek a peaceful solution to tensions over Russia’s massing of troops near Ukraine and its demands that Kyiv be blocked from NATO, but the talks ended without progress.

Peskov said Monday’s talks — where U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman firmly rebuffed Russia’s demand to block NATO entry to Ukraine — “gave the most important, basic cut of the picture.”

Russia-U.S. talks hit impasse over NATO expansion as Moscow denies plans to invade Ukraine

“This will be complemented literally within the next few days, after which it could be understood somehow where to move further and how, and whether it makes sense at all,” said Peskov, commenting on whether Russia would continue with the talks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that without swift acceptance of the demands, he will find his own “military technical” solution. Putin has argued that Ukraine cannot be a sovereign state unless it is Russia’s partner, as the Kremlin attempts to reincorporate the former Soviet states into its sphere of interest.

The talks this week in Europe will test whether Russia will give up its hopes of dominating Ukraine or decide to do so by force. A meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday is to follow Wednesday’s NATO-Russia Council meeting.

Putin has proved his ability to keep NATO leaders off balance by scaling up Russia’s military presence near Ukraine while issuing sweeping new demands that would reshape Europe’s security balance.

Some analysts fear that Russia’s insistence on demands that it knows are unacceptable to NATO may be designed to build a pretext for military action, creating conditions that inevitably lead to an impasse in the talks.

Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, has massed about 100,000 troops near Ukraine, raising fears it could mount a new attack. Russia says it has a right to conduct military exercises and move its forces within its own borders.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Tuesday the ball was now in Washington’s court, calling for a “swift response” to Russia’s demands.

Since early December, U.S. intelligence agencies have warned that Russia was planning a massive military invasion of Ukraine. Here’s why Moscow would do that. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

Peskov’s comments reinforced Monday’s warnings from Sergei Ryabkov, Russian deputy foreign minister, who said no progress had been made on Russia’s key demands. He also said that if Washington did not accept Russia’s demands, he might have to advise Putin there was no point in continuing talks.

Ryabkov said that Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine but that Moscow would not discuss any other security issues with the United States and NATO unless its key demands are met, notably ending NATO’s open-door policy toward new members.

His comments suggested that the limited assurances offered him by Sherman on the scope of U.S. military exercises and placement of missiles would not be enough for Russia.

After the meeting, Sherman said she pushed back against proposals that were “simply nonstarters” for the United States. “We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance.”

Sherman said Monday’s talks were “only the start of a potentially lengthy process.” Peskov, Ryabkov and others insist that Russia demands a swift resolution.

Peskov said the manner in which the talks were held was positive, “open, substantive and direct.”

“It would be naive to think that one round of negotiations can bring comprehensive results,” he said. But he warned that Russia would “not accept an endless stalling of this process,” even if Moscow had not set down any deadline.

“A few more rounds are ahead, and they will give a clearer idea as to where we stand with the Americans,” Peskov said. Interfax reported that U.S. officials had agreed to give a written response to Russia’s demands within a week, citing an unnamed source close to the Russian delegation.

Peskov described a New York Times report two days before Monday’s meeting, outlining plans for sweeping Western sanctions against Russia if it attacks Ukraine, as “a large-scale information attack.”

“Indeed, we can see that our U.S. opponents are continuing to publish threats of upcoming sanctions as a mantra,” he said. “Of course, such things do not help create a constructive atmosphere before the consultations.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Friday that Russia would face “massive consequences” for renewed military action against Ukraine, and he said Russia was trying to “gaslight” the world that it was under threat from Europe and NATO, not the other way around.

“No one should be surprised if Russia instigates a provocation or incident, then tries to use it to justify military intervention, hoping that by the time the world realizes the ruse it’ll be too late,” he said.

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