Top U.S. and Russian diplomats have agreed to keep working to ease tensions over Ukraine as the United States promised a written response to Russian security demands and kept open the possibility of another presidential meeting.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met on January 21 in Geneva at what Blinken said was a “critical moment” in the crisis over Russia’s buildup of tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine.
Blinken told Lavrov the United States would give Russia written responses to Moscow’s requests next week and suggested the two would likely meet again shortly after that.
Blinken also said the United States and its allies remained resolute in rejecting Russia’s most important demands, including promises that Ukraine will never be added as a member of NATO and that no alliance weapons will be deployed near Russian borders.
But Blinken said he believes the United States and Russia “are now on a clearer path to understanding each other’s positions.”
Based on the conversations that have taken place this month, Blinken said he thinks there is a “means to address some of the mutual concerns that we have about security.”
Blinken said Lavrov repeated Russia’s insistence that it has no plans to invade Ukraine despite amassing an estimated 127,000 troops in occupied Crimea and near Ukraine’s borders, raising alarm bells in Western capitals that it is preparing further military action against Ukraine.
“We’re looking at what is visible to all, and it is deeds and actions and not words that make all the difference,” Blinken said.
Blinken said he also repeated during the meeting with Lavrov that the United States and its allies were committed to diplomacy and warned of a “swift, severe” response if diplomacy fails.
Lavrov called the talks “constructive and useful” and said he hoped “emotions will decrease.”
“I can’t say whether we are on the right track or not,” he told reporters. “We will understand that when we receive the U.S. written response to all of our proposals.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said later that in his talks with Blinken, Lavrov had warned of “the most serious consequences” if Washington ignored Moscow’s security demands.
Lavrov agreed that another meeting between him and Blinken could be held, but said it was “premature” to start talking about another summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Blinken said the United States would be open to such a meeting if it would be “useful and productive.” The two have met once in person in Geneva and have had several inconclusive virtual conversations on Ukraine.
Biden plans to spend the weekend meeting with his national-security team at Camp David in Maryland, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
After the meeting, Blinken spoke by phone with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and reaffirmed U.S. support for Kyiv’s sovereignty and stressed that no decisions would be made without his country’s input, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Kuleba tweeted that he welcomed the fact that diplomacy “remains active.” He added that he and Blinken had discussed further strengthening Ukraine’s defenses.
Washington also announced the first shipment of assistance to Ukraine had arrived to “bolster its defenses in the face of growing Russian aggression.”
“The shipment includes close to 200,000 pounds of lethal aid, including ammunition for the front-line defenders of Ukraine,” the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said on Twitter.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP