US and Russia conclude Geneva talks with no breakthrough over Ukraine tensions

US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman and Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov attend security talks at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland 10 January, 2022. (Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse)

Talks between American and Russian diplomats ended in Geneva on Monday with no significant signs of progress in de-escalating the situation with Ukraine, but officials agreed to continue discussions in the coming days.

US secretary of state Wendy Sherman accompanied by other senior officials from the state and defence departments met with the Russia delegation led by deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov for an extraordinary session of strategic stability talks. 

Emerging from nearly eight hour-long discussions held at the US diplomatic mission, Sherman told journalists on a call that the talks were “frank” and “forthright” but did not hint at any progress. 

“The United States came with several ideas of reciprocal actions that the US and Russia can take that would be in our security interest and would improve strategic stability,” US deputy spokesperson Ned Price said at a separate press briefing on Monday evening. 

“We were firm, however, in pushing back on security proposals we’ve heard from Moscow that are simply non-starters for the United States,” he told journalists, adding that it will now allow anyone “to slam closed Nato’s ‘open door’ policy to countries wishing to join the alliance. 

Russia has asked for a series of legally binding security guarantees, including a ban on Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states becoming members of Nato, and that the alliance limits its expansion eastwards. 

President Vladimir Putin has denied plans of launching an attack on Ukraine amid international concerns over an estimated 100,000 Russian troops amassed near the border with Ukraine. 

However, he has described Nato’s expansion and the deployment of weapons close to its borders and to Ukraine “a red line”. 

There are hopes that some compromises can be found and the US has signalled it is open to some preliminary ideas on curtailing the use and placement of certain missile systems in Europe, along the lines of the now defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

At a separate press briefing held at the Russian mission in Geneva, Ryabkov said the conversation with the United States “was long, it was difficult and it was highly professional”. 

However, he added “key issues are still pending and we do not see that there is understanding on the American side of how imperative these matters need to be resolved”.

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Ryabkov said Russia would need to assess prospects for progress following its meeting with Nato in Brussel on Wednesday and the meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on 13 January, when Ukraine and other former Soviet states will also be engaged.

Price similarly said talks in the coming days will help define what the next steps will look like.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg was also wary of anticipating a breakthrough in discussions on Wednesday’s talk. “I don’t think that we can expect that these meetings will solve all the issues,” he told journalists on Monday after talks with Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, Olga Stefanishyna.

“We are working hard for a peaceful political path and we are ready to continue and to work with Russia to try and find that path towards a peaceful solution.”

“At the same time we need to be prepared that Russia once again chooses to use armed force, chooses confrontation, instead of cooperation. And therefore we also need to send a very clear message that we are united and that there will be severe economic and political costs if once again they use military force against Ukraine”.