US and Russia wrap up ‘frank’ talks in Geneva

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before their meeting, in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2022. (Credit: Alex Brandon/Pool via Reuters/ TPX)

The United States and Russia’s top diplomats, Antony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov, agreed in Geneva on Friday that Washington would respond in writing to Moscow’s security concerns next week amid mounting tensions over Ukraine. This could lead to another meeting between the leaders of the two countries, Blinken suggested.

Speaking to reporters following the meeting, the US secretary of state described the talks as “a candid exchange of concerns and ideas” and said that they would likely meet again once Washington had sent its responses.

However, Blinken also made clear that the US and its European allies remained committed to a “swift, severe and united response” to any aggression towards Ukraine.

The one-and-a-half-hour bilateral talks, which came 11 days after a meeting in Geneva between their deputies, sought to de-escalate the crisis over the situation on the Ukraine border where Russia has amassed 100,000 troops.

Read also: Russia-US security talks in Geneva

The country has denied that it plans to invade and instead accuses the US and Nato allies of plotting provocations in Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday reiterated Moscow’s position that it had no intention of attacking its neighbour and said he hoped that emotions would cool down.

“I can’t say whether we are on the right path or not. We will see when we get the American responses,” he told reporters, describing talks as open and useful.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has made a list of security guarantees it wants from the West, including that Ukraine will not join Nato and that the alliance won’t expand further east. Washington, Brussels and Nato have rejected these demands.

Blinken reiterated on Friday that there was “no trade space” on principles that would compromise Ukraine’s sovereignty. However, he said there were other areas where he hoped the US and Russia could find common ground and address mutual security concerns.

“Transparency, confidence-building measures, military exercises, arms control agreements: These are all things that we've actually done in the past and that if addressed seriously can, I believe, reduce tensions and address some of the concerns. But again, that remains to be seen.”

He said Russia now faced a choice between “the path of diplomacy that leads to peace and security or the path that will lead to conflict, severe consequences, and international condemnation”.

In addition to dialogue, the best way for Russia to convince the world that it has no aggressive intent towards Ukraine would be by withdrawing forces from the Ukrainian border, he added.

The Geneva talks come just a day after Russia unveiled plans for naval drills in various parts of the world as well as joint military exercises with Belarus in the coming weeks, in no let up of tensions.

The US on Thursday imposed sanctions on four Ukrainian officials it accused of working at the direction of the Russian government to  destabilise Ukraine. Meanwhile several nations have moved to bolster Nato’s deployment in eastern Europe, including Spain and Norway, which are sending naval forces.

Blinken, who was on the last stop of a whirlwind tour that included a visit to Kyiv and Berlin, said he will now return to Washington to consult with Biden and the country’s national security team as well as its allies.

“Foreign minister Lavrov and I agree that it’s important for the diplomatic process to continue. I told him that following consultations that we’ll have in the coming days with allies and partners, we anticipate that we will be able to share with Russia our concerns and ideas in more detail and in writing next week,” he said.

“If it proves useful and productive for the two presidents to meet, to talk, to engage, to try to carry things forward, I think we’re fully prepared to do that,” Blinken added.