- Senior US and Russian officials met Monday to discuss tensions surrounding Ukraine and the Russian forces nearby.
- Russia insisted, as it has before, that it does not have plans to invade Ukraine.
- The US side said that Russia can prove that by sending troops back to their barracks or explaining its intentions.
Senior US and Russian officials met for high-stakes talks in Geneva, Switzerland Monday to discuss tensions and growing fears that Russia may invade Ukraine.
The more than seven-hour meeting between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov came as Russia has built a significant force presence along the Ukrainian border in recent months.
US intelligence assessments of the situation have suggested that Russia might take aggressive military action against its neighbor “as soon as early 2022” with a force of as many as 175,000 troops. Russia is currently believed to have around 100,000 troops in various positions near the border.
After the meeting, Ryabkov told reporters at a press conference that “there is no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario,” according to The New York Times. The Russian side reportedly told their American counterparts that Russia has no plan to invade Ukraine.
Moscow has previously made this argument while continuing its military build-up near Ukraine.
On a separate conference call with reporters, Sherman said that if Russia wants to prove it has no hostile plans for Ukraine, it should “return the troops to barracks or tell us what exercises are ongoing and what their purpose is,” a Washington Post reporter shared. Other outlets reported similar remarks.
Ryabkov characterized Monday’s bilateral meeting as “difficult, long, very professional, deep, concrete, without attempts to gloss over some sharp edges,” adding that he got the “feeling that the American side took the Russian proposals very seriously and studied them deeply.”
Amid tensions, Russia recently proposed that the US and its European allies bar Ukraine from becoming a part of NATO and reduce their security cooperation with it, among other demands.
Sherman told reporters that the US side pushed “back on security proposals that are simply non-starters for the United States,” explaining that the US “will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance.”
“We will not forgo bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States,” she added. “And we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO.”
Sherman described the talks as a discussion rather than a negotiation, according to The Wall Street Journal, calling them “serious, straightforward, businesslike, candid.”
She said that “we have a long way to go,” explaining that “we believe genuine progress can only take place in a climate of de-escalation, not escalation.”
Sherman, according to a CNN reporter, further explained to reporters that “we will see whether in fact Russia understands that the best way to pursue diplomacy is for them to reduce those tensions and to de-escalate.”