Moscow sees "difficult" talks with Washington over Ukraine and NATO as US warns of the risk of confrontation and Russia rules out concessions.
A top Russian diplomat has predicted "difficult" talks with the United States this week after attending a working dinner with US officials in Geneva as part of the kickoff to a string of meetings in three European cities this week, with ties at a low over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and other Russian officials met on Sunday for over two hours with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the head of the US delegation, and her team at the luxury residence of the US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament that overlooks Lake Geneva.
The dinner was a prelude to a broader discussion between the two teams at the US mission in Geneva starting on Monday — culminating a string of meetings both virtual and in person among US officials, their Western allies, and Russian leaders in recent days and weeks as tensions over Russian pressure against Ukraine have grown.
"We plunged into the substance of the forthcoming issues, but the talks are going to be difficult," Ryabkov told reporters as he left the dinner meeting. "They cannot be easy. They will be business-like. I think we won't waste our time tomorrow."
US reaffirms position on Ukraine
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that during Sunday's dinner Sherman "stressed the United States' commitment to the international principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the freedom of sovereign nations to choose their own alliances," a reference to Ukraine and its aspirations of joining NATO.
Sherman "affirmed that the United States would welcome genuine progress through diplomacy," Price said in a statement.
The talks are seen a first step toward rekindling dialogue as ties have worsened because Russia has deployed an estimated 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine. Concerns have risen about a broader Russian military incursion in the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's government has laid out a list of demands, such as seeking guarantees that the NATO military alliance won't seek to expand any further eastward to countries like Ukraine or Georgia, which are former Soviet republics.
"The Russian side came here with a clear position that contains a number of elements that, to my mind, are understandable and have been so clearly formulated — including at a high level — that deviating from our approaches simply is not possible," Ryabkov said.
Asked whether Russia was ready for compromise, he said: "The Americans should get ready to reach a compromise."
Russia repeats demands
Russia was coming into the talks seeking a clearer understanding of the US position, and cited signals from Washington that some of the Russian proposals can be discussed, Ryabkov said earlier on Sunday, according to state news agency Tass.
He laid out Russia's three demands: no further NATO expansion, no missiles on Russia's borders, and for NATO no longer to have military exercises, intelligence operations or infrastructure outside of its 1997 borders.
US officials expressed openness on Saturday to discussions on curtailing possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on American and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe — if Russia is willing to back off on Ukraine.